I was in my early thirties when I discovered Buddhism. Starting with all the books of Thich Nhat Hahn, then the Dalai Lama, Robert Thurman, Joseph Goldstein, Sharon Salzberg, Jack Cornfield and Jon Kabat Zinn. This was before the internet and Amazon, when book stores and libraries were where you got your books. I would sit in my local book store and clean off the shelves in the Buddhism section until I had read them all. I had found my Spiritual home and become a Jew/Bu.
My mother, not so much. As she started to get older, I recommended we read the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying together, an amazing and scholarly book on the transitions humans make from life to death, but she would have no part of it. The Torah was more her thing.
Buddhists prepare for death early in life; death and meditation are close companions and current research using Buddhist monks who have meditated during their entire lives shows that meditation keeps the memory centers of the brain strong - so strong that the monk brains don’t look anything like brains that have never meditated. Encouraged by some friends, she and my father had learned Transcendental Meditation and been given their own Mantras early in their adulthood, but didn’t practice regularly.
Plaques and Tangles
The brain is a miracle, an intricate and complicated computer, allowing us humans to think, speak, create, express sensations and emotions. The Buddhist concept of Mindfulness teaches us to be more present and to manage our busy minds. When we notice its racing thoughts, even for a short time, Sharon Salzburg calls this, “The magic moment”. This moment when we catch the brain in action, strengthens areas of the brain that store memories. Meditation practice also shifts us into the parasympathetic part of the nervous system, creating relaxation and stress reduction. It is not a failure when the mind races; its a natural process. Instead, what is a Miracle is the moment when we stop, notice the Monkey Mind and come into the grace that is our lives. Meditation is one of the strategies to avoid Alzheimer’s Disease.
The damage that occurs in all three types of Alzheimer’s dementia does not allow for those moments of presence; as the brain becomes more damaged, it uses its precious energy to remember only its oldest memories - not its current ones. This is the reason that those victims of the disease can remember their early childhood, but have no idea what they ate for breakfast.
“This research has delivered one more big dividend. It has shown that Alzheimer’s disease is not a single disease but is actually three distinguishable syndromes.”
-from “The End of Alzheimer’s”
Those of us who have followed any reporting on Alzheimer’s Disease have come across research on a substance found in the brains of all people diagnosed with the condition: Amyloid-beta. At first, it was thought that this substance that formed sticky “plagues and tangles” in the brain was damaging and pharmaceutical companies tried to create a drug that would remove it. In digging deeper, Bredesen and his team discovered that, rather than being destructive, the creation of amyloid-beta is a reaction to brain insults and removing it would create significantly more problems.
The first step, therefore, is finding which subtype of the disease you or a loved one may have.
Type 1 - Inflammatory (hot): It turns out that when humans transitioned from chimpanzees, we all had two copies (one from each parent) of the ApoE4 gene - a gene associated with Alzheimer’s Disease and inflammation. Why would we need inflammation - a symptom that causes all the chronic conditions of our time and that we are all trying to avoid? Apparently, when we came out of the trees, walking the savanna, inflammation was handy, telling us when we needed to pay attention to traumatic injuries and pathogens from eating raw meat. I remember studying inflammation in medical school; it’s an important reaction to acute insults. The real problems come when inflammation becomes chronic, seeping into the body’s most vulnerable areas and festering until it turns into disease that is hard to fix. At one point, it saves lives; at another, it creates chronic conditions that are deadly.
Currently, about 25 per cent of Americans carry a single copy of the ApoE4 gene, giving them an Alzheimer’s risk of about 30 percent; these folks will see symptoms in the late fifties or sixties. About 7 million people carry both copies of the gene, giving them a risk of above 50 percent; those people will see symptoms in the late forties to fifties. If you carry the gene from both parents, it is likely that it is the inflammatory sub-type.
This type is identified by laboratory markers that assess inflammation and, most especially, by hormonal abnormalities like Insulin Resistance. This type is most responsive to the ReCODE protocol, which I will go into in the next newsletter.
Type 2 - Atrophic (cold): In this subtype, there is no evidence of inflammation; instead, hormonal support needed for brain synapses and function is not there or very weak. These people will begin to see symptoms about a decade later than the Inflammatory type. Hormone levels that include Thyroid, estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, pregnenolone and cortisol are low; Vitamin D (considered a hormone) is reduced; Insulin Resistance is almost always present; homocysteine, an important amino acid, may be increased.
Type 1 and 2 combination - glycotoxic (sweet): This combination creates chronically high Glucose levels, the reason it is characterized as “sweet”; and, Insulin Resistance, resulting from high Glucose. In this type, there is an imbalance in the production and destruction of brain synapses, similar to the imbalance in production and resorption of bone cells in Osteoporosis. Note that in both types 1 and 2, there are problems with Insulin Resistance and Glucose levels.
Type 3 - toxic (vile): About 220,000 years ago, there were mutations in our genes, turning the ApoE4 allele, into the ApoE3 gene. This Alzheimer’s toxic sub-type carries copies of the ApoE3 gene and typically, Alzheimer’s Disease is not seen in these families, unless diagnosed at a very late age. This type begins showing symptoms in the late forties to late sixties - earlier than the other types. The symptoms of cognitive decline - not memory loss - are generally followed by a stressful event. They have problems calculating numbers, spelling or reading and have psychiatric problems, like depression or ADD.
One thing to think about, especially in this toxic form of the disease is the idea of dementogens - toxic substances similar to the idea of carcinogens - that could cause the damage seen in this type. People diagnosed with type-3 have been exposed to toxic levels of things like mycotoxins (mold) and Mercury, found in amalgam fillings (an important reason to get them removed by a biologic dentist). They also have abnormal levels of hormones and a high ratio of copper to zinc.
After witnessing the suffering of my father, who ended his life in a haze, not speaking and eventually forgetting how to breathe, I didn’t want to know whether I carried the ApoE4 gene. I assumed it was likely, but since my lifestyle habits as an adult have been very good and I follow the ReCODE program, I have decided to get tested. In the meantime, the next blog will go through the ReCODE protocol so that you will know what to do to avoid the ravages of this disease and live a long and healthy life.