Alzheimer’s disease is an all too common debilitating illness. Unfortunately, many of us are familiar with its devastating effects, causing our loved ones to forget precious memories and every day facts and details of life. It is painful to watch, and no doubt painful to experience. It can be a helpless feeling for all, heightened with the knowledge that there is no known cure.
Fortunately, lack of cure does not equal lack of treatment options. While Alzheimer’s is a degenerative disease there are ways to mitigate its effects. Recent research points to B vitamins as one such solution, helping to reduce symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.
In order to understand how this is possible, it is first important to understand what Alzheimer’s is, how it works, and the role that vitamins play in overall health and wellbeing.
What is Alzheimer’s Disease?
Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive disorder that slowly shatters cognition and memory. This makes even the simplest of tasks difficult to complete. While, the disease is prevalent among those 65 or older, the onset of symptoms begins at age 60. In fact, Alzheimer’s disease is a common cause of dementia.
Its name comes from Dr. Alois Alzheimer, who first noted unusual brain tissue changes of a woman believed to have died from an unknown mental illness. Among her symptoms were language and memory loss. Upon examination, several abnormal clumps and fiber bundles- known now as amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles- were discovered. These clumps and bundles are now recognized as the primary features of the disease, along with the connection loss between neurons in the brain.
What is Alzheimer’s Effect on the Brain?
While research is ongoing as to how the degenerative process begins and what triggers it, experts believe that the damage begins over a decade before the onset of symptoms occur. Although free of symptoms, changes begin to take place within the brain that cause healthy neurons to operate with less efficiency over time until they lose their ability to function at all.
This damage eventually spreads to the hippocampus, an area of the brain that is fundamental to the formation of memories. Increasingly, as neurons die, the brain tissue affected begins to shrink.
What is the Prognosis?
Consisting of three progressive stages, the prognosis from onset to death varies. If diagnosed early, the prognosis may be 10 years or more. If diagnosed later, the prognosis may be only a few years.
Alzheimer’s Disease vs. Dementia
While there are many differences that separate Alzheimer’s from dementia, the primary difference is that Alzheimer’s disease is permanent, while dementia is may be temporary and therefore reversible. This does not mean that dementia is not a serious condition. Like Alzheimer’s, dementia impairs cognition.
Unlike Alzheimer’s its cause can be the caused by things other than brain degeneration, such as medication side effects, alcoholism, tumors, blood clots, and other disorders, including vitamin B12 deficiency. This means that in many cases, dementia is curable. At this time Alzheimer’s, however, is not.
What Role do Vitamins Have?
In the case of Alzheimer’s disease, vitamin B12 and B6, in combination with folic acid are most effective at fighting the disease, by slowing brain atrophy in areas that Alzheimer’s is known to affect.
It is thought that taking merely the minimum recommended dosage of these vitamins may prove insufficient. Elevated levels up to .05mg of B12, 20mg of B6, and .08mg of folic acid may be needed in order to help.
How Can B Vitamins Help?
As noted in the causes of dementia, B12 deficiency is attributed to impaired cognitive function. Since both Alzheimer’s disease and dementia are increasing in number and both affect those older than 60 years of age, some doctors attribute this increase to a lengthening lifespan. In other words, the longer people live the more people are diagnosed.
Recent studies have credited B vitamins with reducing brain shrinkage as much as 90%. When confined to areas within the brain known to incur the most damage due to Alzheimer’s disease, shrinkage was reduced seven fold. This revelation is profound. With a simple and inexpensive daily dose of vitamins known to combat Alzheimer’s and dementia, the prevalence of both could be reduced or postponed.
Where are B Vitamins Found?
B vitamins are found in meat, eggs, poultry and dairy, as well as in some fish. While these foods are common dietary staples for many, adequate levels may not be consumed from diet alone- particularly among vegans or vegetarians.
It is important to note that you don’t have to be deficient in B vitamins in order to experience brain shrinkage. If you are low on B vitamins at all, your health may be impacted. If you are vegan or vegetarian, this does not mean that you must give up your lifestyle choice.
A simple way to increase B Vitamin levels is through supplements. Due to increased absorption rates, B12 Injections are preferable to oral supplements. If a simple shot is shown to reduce Alzheimer’s disease, and help ensure daily requirements are met or exceeded without the need to sacrifice your beliefs, there is no reason to delay action.
What Does this Mean for the Elderly?
The elderly are much more susceptible to dementia and Alzheimer’s. While this seems obvious, what many are not aware of is the difficulty the elderly has absorbing B vitamins. This means that getting the proper amount of B vitamins is even more important we increase in age.
A Glimmer of Hope
B vitamins may not be a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, but their impact and influence offers hope, which is a powerful weapon in the fight against it. Knowing that there is something, however small, that can be done to fight back and protect ourselves and our loved ones from this disease is powerful.
Sometimes the connections aren’t clear, but each step is necessary in order to understand the complete picture. The importance of B vitamins may be only one piece to the puzzle, but a necessary one nonetheless. If you or someone you know is battling against Alzheimer’s disease, it is important that hope is not lost.
Pay close attention to B vitamins and folic acid and take the steps necessary to include them in your diet. Do not give in. Do not admit defeat. Instead, take what is known and go from there.
Michele Via is a health and wellness advocate that believes in a multi-dimensional approach to health. When she’s not blogging about vitamin and health related topics, Michele loves to spend time outdoors hiking, camping and enjoying life.