Memory loss associated with Alzheimer’s reversed: Small trial succeeds using systems approach to memory disorders

Oct 3, 2014

Image credit: © Fenton / Fotolia

By Science Daily

Patient one had two years of progressive memory loss. She was considering quitting her job, which involved analyzing data and writing reports, she got disoriented driving, and mixed up the names of her pets. Patient two kept forgetting once familiar faces at work, forgot his gym locker combination, and had to have his assistants constantly remind him of his work schedule. Patient three’s memory was so bad she used an iPad to record everything, then forgot her password. Her children noticed she commonly lost her train of thought in mid-sentence, and often asked them if they had carried out the tasks that she mistakenly thought she had asked them to do.

Since its first description over 100 years ago, Alzheimer’s disease has been without effective treatment. That may finally be about to change: in the first, small study of a novel, personalized and comprehensive program to reverse memory loss, nine of 10 participants, including the ones above, displayed subjective or objective improvement in their memories beginning within three to six months after the program’s start. Of the six patients who had to discontinue working or were struggling with their jobs at the time they joined the study, all were able to return to work or continue working with improved performance. Improvements have been sustained, and as of this writing the longest patient follow-up is two and one-half years from initial treatment. These first ten included patients with memory loss associated with Alzheimer’s disease (AD), amnestic mild cognitive impairment (aMCI), or subjective cognitive impairment (SCI; when a patient reports cognitive problems). One patient, diagnosed with late stage Alzheimer’s, did not improve.

The study, which comes jointly from the UCLA Mary S. Easton Center for Alzheimer’s Disease Research and the Buck Institute for Research on Aging, is the first to suggest that memory loss in patients may be reversed, and improvement sustained, using a complex, 36-point therapeutic program that involves comprehensive changes in diet, brain stimulation, exercise, optimization of sleep, specific pharmaceuticals and vitamins, and multiple additional steps that affect brain chemistry.

The findings, published in the current online edition of the journal Aging, “are very encouraging. However, at the current time the results are anecdotal, and therefore a more extensive, controlled clinical trial is warranted,” said Dale Bredesen, the Augustus Rose Professor of Neurology and Director of the Easton Center at UCLA, a professor at the Buck Institute, and the author of the paper.


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20 comments on “Memory loss associated with Alzheimer’s reversed: Small trial succeeds using systems approach to memory disorders

  • My prediction is that this promising research will go nowhere and that there will be no significant followup funding forthcoming.

    Reason is that this approach has been known about for a very long time already. (Even if not known to most medical practitioners and their Alzheimer’s patients.) So declining further research could be justified because this approach is not really new, therefore had it been worth investigating then fruitful work would already have been done.

    Especially unnecessary would be any work focusing on the substantial elements: minimising dietary starches and sugars, adequate sleep (normalises hormones that affect tissue maintenance), normalising meal patterns – normal being infrequent with prolonged variable gaps between feeding (days, not just hours) – as occurs for most scavenging omnivore mammals in the wild including humans, and experiencing regular moderate exercise (enables quality sleep and also depletes glycogen reserves enabling more rapid glucose sequestering from unavoidable dietary sugars from non-starchy veges and surplus protein). The basic cause of damage being glycation via the usual culprits: alcohol, nicotine, sugars – mainly from dietary glucose and fructose. Glycation being the random damage to proteins caused by chronic elevated blood sugar. Damaging to tissues occuring in accordance with exposure, flow rate, pressure etc – the brain experiences considerable blood flow hence Alzheimer’s. (A confounding factor is that unlike damage from smoking and alcohol damage from excess blood sugars can be partially mitigated by exercise – which effectively means that not exercising and being mostly sedentary is probably as unhealthy as cigarette smoking and alcoholism.)

    Diet is sometimes regarded as the domain of nutritionists. But the crucial dietary factors identified to reverse Alzheimer’s violently conflict with the substance of modern nutrition practice. e.g. that if the brain depended on glucose (which it doesn’t) then people might suffer problems if they didn’t consume the daily glucose equivalent of the metabolic energy consumed by the brain. So if this work on Alzheimer’s turns out be be valid then major aspects of nutrition science may need to be discarded. This may not be a tolerable outcome for the relevant industry. Especially given the class action liability implications if it turns out that orthodox dietary recommendations are the actual cause of the diseases intended to be prevented by those dietary recommendations.

    I suspect that some parts of the prescription: popping various placebo pills, an electric toothbrush, meditation, yoga, hormone therapy, and singing kumbaya were only included to misdirect from the key unpalatable and career limiting message that a diet emphasising carbohydrates is unpalatable for many people. Unfortunately the only way of positively testing whether you are one of those people seems to be to avoid exercise and eat a high carb low fat diet for 50 years than see to what extent you’ve developed Alzheimer’s, metabolic syndrome, CVD, arthritis, high blood pressure, diabetes etc. By that stage you’ll have have other things on what’s left of your mind and may have forgotten the original question.

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  • The summary talks about how they took “a systems approach” which sounds cool I guess but when you look at what they actually did it was essentially making sure the patients improved their diet, got more sleep, more exercise, etc. Which I think is a regimen that will probably show some quantifiable improvement for many ailments. And part of the improved diet was cutting out gluten which makes me suspicious of the whole thing, gluten is just a fad, unless some of these people actually had gluten allergies I can’t see any reason to discontinue it. My guess is that what also happened here is that old people who were living fairly solitary lives suddenly had daily regular social interactions with the practitioners doing the study. I think THAT is quite likely what caused a major part of the improvement. My mom has dementia and I was amazed at how getting her more attention and interaction with people dramatically improved her memory and ability to function.

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  • Has a definitive cause or causes of Alzheimer’s disease been found? I’ve heard everything from aluminum in cooking pots to flouride in toothpaste to bad genes put forth as a possible cause for the neuronal plaques that seem to cause the symptoms, but no real evidence for any cause that I know of. If a cause isn’t known, how effective is any treatment of symptoms going to be? The memory-improvement tactics in this article could be used by anyone to help with any kind of cognitive or even physical problems and have been known for decades – hardly an Alzheimer’s “breakthrough”. Actual neuronal damage and loss is not likely to be “reversed” by diet, exercise, and sleep, as the article admitted was the case with the one patient who actually had advanced Alzheimer’s.

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  • Has a definitive cause or causes of Alzheimer’s disease been found?…how effective is any treatment of symptoms going to be?

    Actually, if you look carefully at a lot of diseases this is very common: not really understanding the actual causes and using medicine that is either based on an educated guess or that just treats the symptom. I have MS. There really is no accepted theory on what causes it and even the medicine I take (which has powerful side effects) no one really knows for sure why it seems to help people like me keep walking. But there is strong clinical trials evidence that it does so I take it.

    Or look at most psychiatric medicines… actually I would venture to say ALL psychiatric medicines. I go to group therapy and once in a while the doctor has a guest speaker. They had one of the leading psychiatrists at the HMO talk about psychiatric medicine and I really had to hold my tongue because my BS detector was way in the red for many of the things he said. “Bipolar is caused by an imbalance of Serotonin in the brain” Ha! (I didn’t say but was thinking) Absolute speculation with no real scientific evidence. I mean it’s a promising hypothesis and definitely merit’s further investigation but to state it as a scientific fact shows a fundamental lack of a true scientific mind set that is all too common in psychiatrists… Sorry I kind of went off on a tangent there.

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  • Yes, cause of Alzheimers has been found. Very many years ago. Just not yet scientifically established.

    Issue is that many people may be effectively starch intolerant. In a gross metabolic sense over a long period, rather than as in the case of immediate impact of allergies. As for gluten intolerance etc. May be genetically and lifestyle related in that people with the right genes are not impacted, and people with the right lifestyle also won’t be impacted. (In ancient times no one was impacted because everyone had the right kind of lifestyle. Nowadays the effects of genes are dominant because so many people have lifestyles involving inappropriate diet, sleep, exercise etc. Genes are relevant but it is not a genetic disorder – the genes are working fine. At least until they incur glycation damage, along with the mechanisms that mitigate and repair gene damage.

    Though there’s scope for confusion. Especially owing to the fragmentation of scientific disciplines. Which means that key areas are left in the hands of specialists in specific fields.

    Reason is that prevailing practitioners in the relevant fields (nutrition, exercise physiology etc.) are under the impression that dietary fat has been well-established as the cause of most non-communicable disease. However there is no worthwhile scientific evidence that this is the case. in fact every few months more real evidence is accumulating that there has never been any good evidence to support prevailing theories. i.e. Negative evidence of the absence of evidence: Not positive evidence of anything about metabolism, more evidence about the pathology of science and the stupidity of some influential players. Existing theories seem to have arrived out of thin air and remain in play merely because they have been around for so long. (There’s a theory that world war 2 had something to do with this, where the established experts in the field were mostly German speaking and of Jewish heritage – and therefore their legacy and contribution wasn’t particularly welcome internationally in the post-war era. Assuming any survived the holocaust. Same thing happened in the field of macro-economics.)

    Evidence supporting prevailing theories are only epidemiological associations. Outcome being industry-wide redefinition of correlations to henceforth be known as ‘causal’. It’s easy to find the cause of anything if you just label whatever it is that you’ve already found by accident as a ‘causal’ factor. Microsoft Excel may be a causal contribution to this situation. For people with cheap hammers every problem resembles a nail.

    The problem is that the burden of proof has long since shifted, via assumptions that coalesced into orthodoxy. This situation now requires that dietary fats be proven as not causing diseases before the idea might be taken seriously that not everyone is equally tolerant of high amounts and frequent doses of dietary starches and sugars. Aside from working a steep uphill slope against industry research funding this is about as likely as encountering better scientific evidence proving that god doesn’t exist. Failing proof that fats are not causal, despite superficial correlations, the inevitable implications are that dietary sugars and carbohydrates must therefore be a good thing. (Otherwise where else would people acquire their metabolic energy from? Alcohol and cigarettes being the only remaining macronutrients available to pick from.) There are also substantial vested interests and cognitive dissonances / commitment factors which effectively makes nutrition more of a religion than a science. (Think of why so many nutritionists might be vegans? Did they become vegans as a consequence of studying nutrition, or were they more like physicists – who were brought up on time travel, star trek, and star wars, and so were inspired to become physicists to make it all happen?)

    My favourite example of psychological blockers being that there is assumed to be a minimum dietary sugar intake requirement in order to fuel the daily needs of the central nervous system. Unfortunately for this idea the central nervous system has recently been established as not being fueled directly via blood glucose. (It is mostly lactate/glycogen and ketones. Perhaps excepting pathological situations for victims of chronically elevated blood sugar. i.e. most of some nation’s populations.)

    Actual causal mechanisms is probably as identified by Cerami et al in the early 1980s. Work which lead nowhere, except for some cosmetic products and for the technique of detecting glycated blood cells to estimate how much diabetics are cheating on the no cakes, sweets, and biscuits aspects of their diets. Glycation of blood cells is more or less irrelevant for most people because blood is such a short-lived disposable asset. What is less disposable, yet equally devasted, are neurons, spinal disks, knee cartilege, eye lenses, arterial linings, skin, DNA, immune systems. (Another related factor is that most cancerous tumours are fueled via excess blood glucose. Many tumours may diminish with ketogenic diets or starvation – research in process. Answer expected in 10 or 20 years. Glucose might not only cause the random genetic damage that occasionally leads to tumours, it may also fuel the aggressive expansion of tumours.)

    Existing strong evidence about Alzheimers is related to other non-communicable disease. Though precedes modern epidemiology and therefore is discounted as anecdotal and insufficiently robust science. Of interest to myself is dental caries. In most colonial environments of the early 19th century the existing hunter gather populations in many places around the world were distinguished by the relative absence of dental caries (despite no tooth brushing, natural or artificial flouridation, or dental treatments). Plus there was negligible cancer, alzheimers, CVD, diabetes etc. All things things then suddenly hit very hard, along with infectious diseases (partially explained by a simultaneous collapse in native populations’ immune responses in addition to mere consequence of exposure to established European microbes) around 10 years after native populations became assimilated into the European imported food economy. (Mostly via easily shipable sugar, rice, and flour owing to the absence of refrigeration for fresh foods.)

    Implications of this history being that removing the sugar and flour from Alzheimer’s victims might be the first thing to try instead of the last thing. Which is probably the real basis for interest in the above article. (Same for cancers, diabetes, oral health, cardiovascular disease. and other neural degeneration etc.) However it will be impossible to convince anyone who is trained in nutrition science. Mainly because such people are so highly trained in nutrition, they seem to have left out the science bit.

    I think it may be a bit like why people study law at university. Real reason may be that law students don’t have to take math. Plus it’s lucrative for similar reasons to nutrition – so many scoundrels lining up to buy the outcomes they prefer.

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  • BTW I forgot to mention. Most of the body’s systems recover from damage when the cause is removed. There’s no reason to assume that neural networks in the central nervous system are any different. (It’s a myth that neurons do not regenerate etc. just as that the brain depends entirely on glucose fuel.) Certainly some memories and connections may be lost as neurons disappear or become dysfunctional. But there’s good evidence that sleep, exercise, and quality food (high nutrient quality, including relatively low starch and sugar and relatively infrequent meals) stimulates the growth of new neurons.

    Though presumably this is no different to other physiological systems such as muscles, bone, connective tissues which all require some stress and micro-damage to stimulate tissue regrowth and strengthening given sufficient rest, nutrients, and normal hormonal environment. i.e. You need experience significant neural stimulation and learning, adaptation, problem solving etc. as well. You can create the environment for muscle growth as for neural growth. But you have to actually run fast or lift weights etc. to make it happen.

    Same happens for stroke victims who have to learn to walk again – but don’t have the 2 or 3 years of free time available as was required for all humans when they first learned to walk.

    There is evidence that physical exercise is important for neuron growth. Though activities like walking are probably sufficient, no need to join cross fit etc.

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  • 7
    Richard says:

    Excellent post, I came across Art de Vany many years ago and his work on evolutionary fitness is excellent. The theory being that we are physiologically still cavemen and our diet for 40,000 years has been meat and vegetables. Only in the last 5000 years have we eaten grains and only the last 200 years have we had industrial production of grains and only in the last 100years(?) have we really vamped up the sugar. Add to that the sedentary position we adopt during work probably what 50years(?) our bodies are not made for this kind of life. We have evolved to eat when there is food that you have gathered at a leisurely stroll or hunted at incredible bursts of power. Sugar would be hard to come by and grains/pulses/beans would be poisonous raw.

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  • 8
    John Gohde says:

    I think it may be a bit like why people study law at university. Real
    reason may be that law students don’t have to take math. Plus it’s
    lucrative for similar reasons to nutrition – so many scoundrels lining
    up to buy the outcomes they prefer.

    I think that I would prefer to read the Introduction provided in the actual research paper over anymore of your drivel, thank you. After all, the paper got published while your stuff was NOT and for good reason.

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  • Of course this is just my own opinion and anecdotal story, but I think that the causes are far more complex than just modern diets or lack of exercise or environmental pollution. These factors may contribute, but it seems likely that genetic predisposition or possibly the latent effects of some viral infection could play a large part, since not everyone who has a bad diet or dental caries or was exposed to Teflon in cooking pots or who doesn’t exercise gets Alzheimer’s.

    Anecdotally, my maternal grandfather fell victim to early-onset Alzheimer’s at the age of about 60. He was born in 1903, raised on home-grown food on a Montana ranch, lived his entire life getting vigorous daily exercise and eating organic, chemical-free natural food produced on his own ranch, including large amounts of butter, bacon, beef, lard, bread and other foods now deemed “unhealthy”. Yet he was always slim, muscular, fit and vigorous. When he died at age 83, he still had all his own teeth – and no fillings or cavities. He never had cancer, diabetes, obesity, CVD, or any other modern chronic diseases. While he suffered from memory problems, he still performed daily outdoor chores with ease that would tax many much younger people. Up until he was hospitalized for his severe Alzheimer’s symptoms, he still walked several miles each day. Why did such a person, very nearly without exposure to the ills of modern life, still get Alzheimer’s? If a healthier lifestyle is effective in improving or at least delaying the memory deficits of Alzheimers, then why did he suffer from such an aggressive form of early-onset disease?

    It’s worth noting that his brothers and sisters, all of whom shared his rural, healthy lifestyle, lived to be over 90 years old (one lived to be 103) did not suffer from any form of dementia. None of his children, all of whom are now in their 70’s and 80’s, have so far shown any signs of Alzheimer’s or any other dementia. Did he just inherit some bad genes (without passing them on), or did he possibly suffer from some undiagnosed viral illness at some point? Who knows? At death, his body was donated to science, and his brain revealed the classic plaques of Alzheimer’s.

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  • I agree with you somewhat about psychiatric medications – not all the causes are known, and medications may or may not work for everybody. The causes of mental illness are complex; schizophrenia seems to have a strong genetic component although the specific genes responsible have not been located; there is also some evidence of a link to maternal influenza infection that has not, to my knowledge, been confirmed. However, the fact that SSRIs (selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors) do work for many people does seem to support the theory that depression and bipolar illness is linked to serotonin deficiency or problems with serotonin receptors. My husband suffers from bipolar II – such severe disease that his life was endangered. He has been stable now for more than a year on a combination of bupropion, lamotrigine, and aripiprazole – it’s literally saved his life. Without them, I believe he would have long since committed suicide while manic or simply starved himself to death while catatonically depressed. Admittedly, it took quite a few trials of different medications to hit on the combination that works for him, but without any idea of how neurotransmitters work in the brain, we wouldn’t have anything like effective drugs to treat people like him. We’d still be trying exorcisms, ice-water baths, and purgatives.

    As an RN, I’m responsible for knowing how drugs work – their indications, what chemical pathways they alter or inhibit or enhance at the cellular level, their half-life, their therapeutic and toxic levels, their metabolism and excretion by the body, their side effects and contraindications, their interactions with each other, and so on. While the ultimate root causes of many diseases are not known, their physical manifestations and effects are, and with our knowledge of microbiology, physiology, and chemistry, we can come up with effective treatments. I look forward to the day when we can prevent chronic and acute disease at the genetic level. I believe this day is fast approaching.

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  • My mother was born 1918 and died 2002. She had Alzheimer’s also proven at autopsy. Although not living as healthy life as your father, the infrastructure of city living for her being a non driver meant she did a lot of walking all her life. Her siblings did experience some mental decline with age but not so much that they had to be put into care. You point about the viral illness might have some traction since there has been studies that there is evidence of schizophrenia beig expressed due to in utero viral illness.

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  • Yes, cause of Alzheimers has been found. Very many years ago. Just not yet scientifically established.

    That statement is contradictory. A “cause” is not a cause unless it has been scientifically established. Until then, they’re just wild ass guesses. You’ve pretty much invalidated the rest of your post.

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  • For me there’s an underlying tragedy in a cure being found, in that a friend of forty years standing died of this hideous disease last year after a decades decline. I can hardly imagine how his wife is feeling now, and how she will feel if prevention is discovered in her life time; I suppose she’ll just have to be philosophical about it.

    I find catharsis in reminding myself of how fortunate I am to still be alive, happy and healthy; a inner voice keeps saying: just fucking well get on with it!

    Incidentally, my friend was an arts lecturer and one of the wittiest men I’ve known, but when he was in the dark end days of his life he said to a mutual acquaintance: They tell me I used to be a painter.

    Dreadful, just dreadful.

    I need a cup of tea!

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  • 15
    John Gohde says:

    LOL – NEGATIVE people are a dime a dozen. Personally, I am looking forward to keeping my own brain intact for as long as possible. Everybody eventually dies, but I want to be fully alive while I am still on Earth. It is the last disease on my list of preventable diseases (ALL lifestyle diseases are preventable. ONLY 1% of diseases are due to genetics) to prevent. I am past the age of 60. Ergo, genetics and lifestyle have yet to do me in. I know that I certainly wont be given the answer by either conventional medicine or by my government.

    The one good thing about this RD site is that occasionally you get notified about a story worth investigating. It has a nice good info to noise ratio, IMHO.

    The nice thing about reading the full-text of research studies is that they are well footnoted. You start out on one study and then you can end up reading a dozen other studies, or at least their abstracts.

    The easiest thing in the world to do is absolutely nothing. If there is a piece of usable information in this new study, I am going to discover it for myself. Of course, THIS wont be my first journey into researching AD. I am very familiar with the fact that virtually everything has been linked to AD. The most likely cause for AD is brain inflammation, IMHO. Whatever this particular study has claimed is going to be determined by me first hand, by examining it in extreme detail.

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  • Alzheimer’s is a terrible disease that effectively robs a person of their past, their present, and their identity. When my grandfather became very ill, it was as if he had died while his body still lived. It is awful when a family member or friend doesn’t recognize you, can’t remember where they live or what they used to do or even who they are. It must be terrifying for the victim as well, as they realize during moments of lucidity that they are lost, that their personality and memories are fading away. Effective prevention and treatment of this dementia can’t come soon enough!

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  • 20
    bonnie says:

    The “like” was for the comment, not the owner, as a curiosity to see how a tough-as-nails poster would respond.

    Mini experiment complete – on to greener pastures.

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