Galantamine May Help Stave Off the Fog of Dementia
Preventing Dementia Can
Boost Life Expectancy
By Will Block
Of all the things I've lost, I miss my mind the most.
-- Ashley Brilliant
ould you rather live for a shorter time with all your marbles, or for a longer time with a . . . shall we say, significant marble deficit? The question is not trivial, nor is it easy to answer. How much longer could you live for each marble lost? Would the gradual clouding of your mind make you a happier person by obliterating the fears and worries that plague us, especially as we grow older? Would the eventual loss of recognition of your loved ones, and perhaps even of yourself, be worth the extra years of that most precious of all gifts — life?
Some studies indicate that Alzheimer's disease may actually prolong life a little, perhaps by imposing less wear and tear, as it were, on the brain (through reduced activities such as thinking, which is an energy-intensive process), or by insulating the brain's owner from some of the perils of daily life, such as driving a car or listening to a politician.
Does that make sense to you? Perhaps it shouldn't, because the conclusions from those studies are probably wrong. The human brain is not like a Ford that lasts for many years because it's owned by a little old lady who only drives it to church on Sundays. A better analogy is that it's like a Ferrari owned by a mechanic: if he drives it every day and keeps it well tuned, it will outlast that bored Ford. Our brains, like our muscles, thrive on activity to stay fit and healthy - and the more, the better.
BRAIN NUTRIENTS MAY MEAN LONGER LIFE
Our brains also thrive, of course, on nutrients. Certain natural nutritional supplements, most notably galantamine, can help you go a long way toward preventing the fog of dementia from slowly, insidiously seeping into your mind and shutting it down, circuit by circuit, without your being aware of it. By staving off the fog of dementia, you may be boosting your life expectancy as well. That's because research just published in The New England Journal of Medicine indicates that life expectancy in people suffering from dementia is much shorter than had previously been believed.1 The authors represent the departments of epidemiology and biostatistics, medicine, and mathematics and statistics from a number of Canadian universities.*
*When it comes to life-expectancy statistics related to a given disease or disorder, there is one group of people even more keenly interested than scientific researchers - insurance underwriters. They are very well informed.
The study found that the median survival rate for 821 elderly Canadian dementia patients with an average age of 84 was 3.3 years after the onset of the disease (median means that there were equal numbers of survivors above and below the 3.3-year figure). This figure is much lower than those suggested by previous studies: from 5 to 9.3 years. The new study sought to overcome certain forms of statistical bias that appeared to compromise the results of the earlier ones, but it makes no claim to perfection - a fundamental difficulty, for example, lies in trying to determine just when the starting point is of a disease that does not appear to have one. Nonetheless, the new study's sophisticated methods appear to have provided the best estimate yet - and a very sobering one it is - of the actual impact of dementia on life expectancy.
In the next half-century, the
prevalence of Alzheimer's disease
in the United States will nearly
The American authors of an editorial that accompanied the paper paint a grim picture of dementia, projecting that in the next half-century, the prevalence of Alzheimer's disease in the United States will nearly quadruple, meaning that one in every 45 Americans will be afflicted (the rate among the elderly will, of course, be much higher than that, because so few young people are afflicted).2 They go on to say, "In the new study, the prognosis for patients with dementia was similar to that for patients with some of the most malignant diseases, including many forms of cancer and heart disease."
DEMENTIA IS MORE THAN ALZHEIMER'S
What is dementia, exactly? It's more than Alzheimer's disease, which is just one of several forms of this terrible affliction. In general, dementia is a progressive loss of memory accompanied by significant impairment in other areas of mental function or behavior. It is the tragic, gradual evaporation of one's inner self from what might be an otherwise hale and hearty body that could do whatever it wanted, if only the mind could remember what that was.
There are over 60 different causes of dementia, but just two forms of this disease account for the lion's share of its victims: Alzheimer's and vascular dementia. The cause of Alzheimer's is unknown, but its neurological symptoms are not. They generally include reduced levels of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine in certain parts of the brain, a substantial loss of neurons (brain cells), and the development of pathological changes in the brain called plaques and tangles. Whether these are causes or effects of Alzheimer's is not known.
VASCULAR DEMENTIA IS CAUSED BY BRAIN DAMAGE
Vascular dementia (dementia related to the brain's blood vessels) is better understood. It is the result of years of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) and hypertension (high blood pressure) - and, in some cases, the cumulative effect of "mini-strokes" - damaging brain function. Among other things, the blood-carrying capacity of the vessels is so severely impaired that they can no longer deliver sufficient amounts of the nutrients (primarily oxygen and glucose) the brain craves.
And "craves" is the right word. The brain, far from being a sluggish sort of organ that just sits there like a blob of, well, gray matter, is an energy hog that normally consumes about 25% of the body's entire oxygen intake, and up to 40% when it's running in high gear. It takes a lot of energy to think (as in really think), which is why some chess champions train like athletes to prepare themselves for the grueling physical demands of a tournament, during which they just sit there and think incredibly hard for hours on end.
|When you're young, you have all your marbles. |
WHAT ARE THE RISK FACTORS FOR DEMENTIA?
Being a woman is a significant risk factor for dementia, probably because women live longer than men, and age is the single greatest risk factor. The prevalence of dementia at age 65 is 1%, but by age 85 it's 30-50%, and the incidence of new cases thereafter is 5-10% per year.3 Other risk factors include all those for heart disease: lack of exercise, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity, smoking, and diabetes. Low income, low educational level, and low intellect (all of which can be pretty closely related) are also factors, as are prior head injuries severe enough to have caused loss of consciousness. Finally, there is a genetic factor: the presence of a gene called apolipoprotein E e4 allele apparently predisposes one to Alzheimer's, although having this gene will not necessarily lead to the disease, nor will lacking the gene provide protection from it.
There is an intriguing speculation that when the baby boomers begin entering the "dementia zone" of old age, we may see a marked rise in the incidence of these diseases. Why? Because boomers are the first generation that grew up steeped from earliest childhood in the relentless onslaught of TV garbage. We have always known that too much TV rots the brain, figuratively at least. We will eventually know whether it does so literally as well.
WHAT ARE THE PROTECTIVE FACTORS AGAINST DEMENTIA?
No, we're not going to say "being a man" - that would be a cheap shot, and we are above that sort of thing. Besides, we think men ought to live as long as women, and that should even the odds. The real protective factors are, for starters, the opposites of all the heart disease risk factors. Good cardiovascular health almost certainly means good cerebrovascular health as well, and there go your chances of getting vascular dementia, right down the tubes, so to speak. It also helps to be smart and well educated, but especially (and even if you're not exactly another Einstein) to be mentally active - whether it be at a job, a hobby, games, puzzles, or reading things that challenge you to think somewhat beyond what's for dinner. Remember: "Use it or lose it."
It also helps if you chose your parents well - a good family history is always a plus - especially if they passed on to you the good version of that bad gene mentioned above; the good one is called apolipoprotein E e2 allele. And there is some evidence that the risk of dementia is decreased by the long-term use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).3 That's encouraging, except for the potentially severe side effects of NSAIDs, such as ulcers, kidney damage, and congestive heart failure (from long-term aspirin use by the elderly). Is it worth damaging your body to save your mind?
NUTRITIONAL SUPPLEMENTS CAN HELP PREVENT DEMENTIA
Fortunately, you can nourish your mind without fear of harming your body at the same time. To help stave off the threat of dementia - and the earlier you begin, the better - there are two major strategies that can be implemented with the use of safe, effective, natural nutritional supplements:enhancing neurotransmission and enhancing vascular health.
The brain can function only with an abundant supply of those vital molecules called neurotransmitters, among which one of the most important is acetylcholine (ACh). A marked reduction in ACh levels in certain regions of the brain is characteristic of Alzheimer's disease. It stands to reason that anything that can enhance ACh function is desirable. Life Enhancement's cognitive enhancer Galantamine helps do this in three complementary ways:
1. Stimulation of ACh production. This is accomplished by the ingredient choline, a chemical precursor to acetylcholine, together with its cofactor, pantothenic acid (also known as vitamin B5).
2. Protection of existing ACh. This is accomplished by the ingredient galantamine, an extraordinarily effective acetylcholinesterase inhibitor; that means that galantamine suppresses acetylcholinesterase (AChE), the enzyme that destroys ACh. The primary treatment for Alzheimer's disease is with AChE inhibitors.
3. Sensitization of nicotinic receptors. These are specialized ACh receptors in the brain, and galantamine modulates them so as to make them even more receptive to ACh, thus boosting the efficiency of neurotransmission.
Enhancing Vascular Health
Vascular dementia can occur only if vascular health has been severely impaired - and that is something you can prevent, and even reverse to some degree. There are many nutritional supplements that can help in this regard, through a variety of different mechanisms.
In the coming two months, Life Enhancement will print in-depth articles on each of the two strategies outlined above for protecting yourself from the life-robbing ravages of dementia. Meanwhile, your best bet for enhanced neurotransmission is to take Galantamine, and in any case, keep on revving the engine of that mental Ferrari of yours!
Other Supplements That Can
Another cognitive supplement that is beneficial for enhancing neurotransmission is huperzine A, an AChE inhibitor derived from a Chinese remedy with along history of use. Still other products that can help in this regard are DMAE, pregnenolone, DHEA, Ginkgo biloba, vitamin C, and vitamin E.
Supplements that can help enhance vascular health include vinpocetine, coenzyme Q10, phosphatidylserine, acetyl L-carnitine, EDTA, and lipoic acid.
- Wolfson C, Wolfson DB, Asgharian M, M'Lan CE, Østbye T, Rockwood K, Hogan DB. A reevaluation of the duration of survival after the onset of dementia. N Engl J Med 2001 Apr 12;344(15):1111-6.
- Kawas CH, Brookmeyer R. Aging and the public health effects of dementia.N Engl J Med 2001 Apr 12;344(15):1160-1.
- Goodwin L. Underwriting dementia and memory loss. The Messenger (Transamerica Reinsurance Risk Management newsletter), June 2000, pp 1-12.