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Alzheimer’s Disease

A recent study has found that unnecessary use of iron supplements and consumption of too much red meat can increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease in later life. The study was carried out by researchers at the University of California, and hit the headlines last week.
Practitioners of natural medicine have long associated Alzheimer’s disease with high levels of various metals such as aluminium, copper and iron. Although iron in particular is essential for health, consuming too much can lead to toxic levels accumulating in various organs of the body, including the brain.

Many Irish people in particular are prone to absorbing high levels of iron from their food. This is thought to be due to famine times, when people evolved to maximise their iron absorption when food was in short supply. However, these days people are inclined to eat far too much red meat. In addition, many people take iron supplements when they feel tired or run down, without having blood tests to establish whether they are iron deficient. In many cases the tiredness is due to stress, overwork, lack of sleep, or another medical condition, rather than iron deficiency.

Alzheimer’s disease destroys nerve cells, and disrupts the neurotransmitters that carry messages in the brain. This leads to loss of memory, difficulty in finding the right words for everyday objects, mood swings and personality changes. As the disease progresses, the person may become confused, have difficulty performing familiar tasks, or display unsettling or inappropriate behaviour.

As with most serious health problems, prevention is definitely better than cure.  Alzheimer’s disease may be predominantly a problem of old age, but it is certainly not an inevitable one. You can reduce your exposure to aluminium by avoiding aluminium-containing antiperspirants, antacids, table salt, processed foods and food cooked in aluminium trays or saucepans, and filter your water to avoid excessive consumption of copper from copper pipes. Avoid eating too much red meat, and try to eat more fish and vegetarian dishes containing beans and pulses. Finally, avoid taking nutritional supplements containing iron or copper unless you are advised to do so by a healthcare professional.

Unfortunately there is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s disease.  However, some of the associated problems, such as restlessness and depression, can be treated. In the early stages it may also be possible to slow down the progression of the disease. Vitamin B complex, Vitamin E and Vitamin C have all been shown to help slow the progression of Alzheimer’s.  Oily fish (such as sardines, tuna, mackerel, salmon and trout) beans and pulses, and Lecithin granules help to maintain the myelin sheath that surrounds and protects nerve cells, and they are also rich in Choline, which is used to make neurotransmitters in the brain.

The best herb for preventing and slowing the progress of dementia is Ginkgo biloba, a powerful antioxidant and circulatory stimulant, which is available on prescription from Medical Herbalists.  Other herbs that are particularly useful in this condition are rosemary and turmeric.  There are also many other herbs available that can help with the associated problems such as restlessness and depression.