When I took my husband to a “holistic” neurologist almost two decades ago she questioned him for hours about his medical and lifestyle history. Together, we came up with a hypothesis that my husband’s Alzheimer’s could have been triggered by his life-long inflammation issues and digestive problems. As a child Morris suffered from eczema and severe asthma. He was an allergic adult with poor digestion.
We theorized that Morris had leaky gut syndrome caused by intestinal permeability. Although this is not typically taught in medical school, the term “leaky gut syndrome” is being studied more and more as people complain of various symptoms such as bloating, gas, food sensitivities and unexplained aches and pains.
Basically, the syndrome occurs when tight junctions in the gut, which control what passes through the lining of the small intestine, don’t work properly. Inflammation in the gut, due to poor eating habits, low levels of healthy intestinal bacteria, infections, intestinal parasites, over-use of medications (especially NSAIDs such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), and imbalanced gastric juices can all lead to a weakening of the intestinal lining. Tiny breaks in the tissue lining can result in leaky gut syndrome, allowing protein molecules to travel via the blood throughout the body all the way to the brain. Antibodies attack the proteins which are viewed as foreign enemies in the blood bathing the brain, which results in inflammation.
(Chapters 20 and 31 in “Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey through Alzheimer’s and Dementia” contain more information about ayurveda and nutrition that calms down the nervous system and supports immunity.)
What is Inflammation?
Inflammation is part of the immune system’s response to defend you against microbial
infections. It is the body’s first line of defense against the invasion of microorganisms such as bacteria and viruses, and it is activated rapidly after infection. The microbes are detected as foreign to the body by immune cells such as macrophages, which literally means “big eater.” Macrophages engulf foreign microorganisms and then release cytokines and chemokines that attract other cells that help in regulating the infected or affected area. Blood flow to the area is increased, which you notice when the area around a cut swells, turns red and feels warm. These are all signs of external inflammation. The chronic internal inflammation caused by leaky gut can result in inflammatory conditions leading to a host of diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease.
Approximately 70% of your immune system cells are found in your gut.
In one study, researchers found that when they compared healthy mice to mice with induced Alzheimer’s symptoms the sick mice had a different composition of gut bacteria. The researchers also studied Alzheimer’s disease in mice that completely lacked bacteria to further test the relationship between intestinal bacteria and the disease. Mice without bacteria had a significantly smaller amount of beta-amyloid plaque in the brain. (Beta-amyloid plaques are the lumps that form at the nerve fibres in the brain and are considered the main culprit of Alzheimer’s disease.)
To clarify the link between intestinal flora and the occurrence of Alzheimer’s, the researchers transferred intestinal bacteria from diseased mice to germ-free healthy mice. They discovered that the mice with the unhealthy bacteria developed more beta-amyloid plaques in the brain compared to the healthy mice.
“Our study is unique as it shows a direct causal link between gut bacteria and Alzheimer’s disease. It was striking that the mice which completely lacked bacteria developed much less plaque in the brain,” says researcher Frida Fåk Hållenius, at the Food for Health Science Centre.
The important thing to note here, though, is that the bacteria found in the “Alzheimer’s” mice was abnormal. It was not the healthy bacteria crucial to healthy immunity and digestion in the human body.
Other recent studies are pointing to possible links between Alzheimer’s disease and infections. As reported by Gina Kolata in the New York Times (May 25, 2016), Harvard researchers reported in the journal “Science Translational Medicine” this hypothesis: “that a virus, fungus or bacterium gets into the brain, passing through a membrane — the blood-brain barrier — that becomes leaky as people age. The brain’s defense system rushes in to stop the invader by making a sticky cage out of proteins, called beta amyloid. The microbe, like a fly in a spider web, becomes trapped in the cage and dies. What is left behind is the cage — a plaque that is the hallmark of Alzheimer’s.”
David Perlmutter, MD, a neurologist, author and Fellow of the American College of Nutrition, offers this interesting article about probiotics as being a possible tool for reversing Alzheimer’s disease. http://www.drperlmutter.com/reversing-alzheimers-with-probiotics/
Researchers evaluated 60 patients with Alzheimer’s for 12 weeks. First the group went through a blood test to determine their levels of highly sensitive c-reactive protein (hs-CRP) a powerful marker of inflammation. They also took the mini-mental status exam (MMSE), the most commonly used cognitive assessment tool for memory impairment.
Half the group was given a placebo, with the other half taking a probiotic milk containing the probiotic species, Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus casei, Bifidobacterium bifidum, and Lactobacillus fermentum. The results of the study were stunning. The placebo group showed an increase in hs-CRP, an inflammation marker, by an impressive 45%. In the group taking the probiotic, hs-CRP actually declined by 18% indicating a dramatic reduction in inflammation.
Dr. Perlmutter says, “But here’s the truly exciting news. Over the 12 weeks, the patients in the placebo continued to decline mentally, as you might expect. Their MMSE score dropped from 8.47 to 8.00, a substantial reduction. But the group on the inflammation reducing probiotics actually demonstrated, not a decline in brain function, but an actual improvement, with their MMSE scores going from 8.67 up to 10.57, and that’s a huge improvement. Again, not only was their mental decline stopped in it’s tracks, these individuals regained brain function!
He continues, “The message here is that inflammation is directly determined by the health and diversity of our gut bacteria, and this has major implications in terms of brain health, function, and disease resistance. Recognizing that inflammation is the mechanism underlying not just Alzheimer’s disease, but Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, coronary artery disease, and even cancer means that the findings in this report may have wide implications.”
Healing the gut. . .reducing inflammation
It seems there might be a two-pronged approach to healing the gut by reducing inflammation and restoring beneficial bacterial.
- Restore beneficial bacteria
- Eat fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir, kimchi, Sauerkraut, apple cider vinegar, and Japanese foods like miso, kombucha and natto.
- Take a daily probiotic such as Garden of Life’s Raw Probiotics Colon Care or MegaFloria Probiotics, or check out the reviewed probiotic supplements at The Best Probiotic Supplement site.
- Take L-glutamine, an amino acid, which is essential to a healthy immune and digestive system, heals leaky gut and reduces sugar cravings.
2. To reduce inflammation
Reduce consumption of foods that are known to cause inflammation
- sugary drinks and desserts
- white flour products
- fried foods
- artificial sweeteners and additives
- vegetables oils such as canola, sunflower, soy, corn, safflower or palm oil which have a high concentration of the inflammatory fat omega 6 and are low in the anti-inflammatory fat omega-3. Instead, use olive, avocado, walnut and coconut oils.
- saturated fats
- meat—reduce your consumption and try to eat only grass-fed beef and chicken that is free-range
It also helps to reduce your stress, get a good nights’ sleep, drink plenty of water, and exercise!