Alzheimer’s Disease

The etiology or cause of Alzheimer’s disease is a topic of considerable debate. It is most probably, however, a multifactorial process. So in that regard, there’s a bit of truth in everyone’s opinion. The only intelligent perspective is, of course, mine. As I have often stated, all disease processes find their origins in oxidation, inflammation, infection, or an immune system gone awry, or a combination of these. Alzheimer’s disease is no exception. However, in the brain there is an additional consideration, the function of the neurotransmitters, the chemicals secreted by one neuron or nerve cell and picked up by the receptors of the next neuron in the chain to perpetuate the electrical signal.  Excesses or deficiencies in these neurotransmitters can also cause abnormalities of thought, sensation and motor function and other disease processes. Usually, though, dysfunctions of neurotransmitters are the result of one of the “big 4” listed above. In this section we’ll review the role of several drugs and endogenous chemicals such as CoEnzyme Q10, Acetyl-L-Carnitine, neuroendocrine hormones, and Melatonin, a protective neurotransmitter, in reducing oxidation and in decreasing inflammation, all considered to be significant factors in the etiology of Alzheimer’s.

Startling statistics on Alzheimer’s disease:

  • 4.5 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s disease
  • Most family members feel that drugs are the only answer to slowing down the disease
  • Alzheimer’s patients usually take one drug
  • Estimated cost of each drug: $120 a month
  • The overall costs of Americans taking the drugs are $1.2 billion a year

There is a continuing controversy on whether the drugs currently used in Alzheimer patients really work. Some doctors are beginning to doubt their effectiveness as they observe the drugs’ effects on their patients. Recently (early 2006), there was a paper suggesting that two cups of coffee were just as effective in improving the cognitive function in these patients.  Coffee would certainly be cheaper, but $3.00 for two months of over-the-counter melatonin capsules is cheaper still.  Four of the prescription drugs (Aricept, Exelon, Reminyl and Tacrine (at roughly $3.00 per pill)) are believed to work by increasing the levels of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter, in the brain by inhibiting its breakdown enzyme acetylcholinesterase.  As of the date of this writing, even the FDA has not found these drugs to be significantly beneficial in treating this disease to be awarded their approval but many doctors are prescribing them. In addition, there is increasing evidence that this postulated deficiency of acetylcholine is not the cause of Alzheimer’s Disease and that any decrease in the levels of this neurotransmitter does not occur until the late stages of the disease. This comes from data gathered in the Religious Orders Study that looked at the amount of choline acetyltransferase enzyme which has long been known to be the rate limiting emzyme step in the production of acetylcholine. With the information presented below and the expense of the cholinesterase inhibitors mentioned above, there are better ways of preventing and combating Alzheimer’s.


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