Alzheimer’s Disease and Brain Awareness
by Sonya Bhakta, L. Ac.
Why you should care about your brain.
I’m sure by now that most people have heard the old time saying of you “use it or lose it,” When it
comes to the brain — the widely held belief that a person can maintain or enhance his or her cognitive
function, and offset age-related declines in mental performance, by engaging in intellectual exercise.
Just how important is it to know about brain health when it comes cognitive impairment in
neurodegenerative diseases? Below I will be discussing prevalence, characteristics, risk factors, as well
as what can be done to prevent decline and keep your brain functioning at its optimal level.
Dementia has the characteristic symptoms of difficulties with memory, language, problem‐solving and
other thinking skills that affect a person’s ability to perform everyday activities. Alzheimer’s Disease is
the most common cause of dementia, accounting for an estimated 60% to 80% of cases. It is practically
guaranteed that you will come across people with Alzheimer’s Disease because, did you know that it is
the 6th leading cause of death in the United States, with 1 in 10 people aged 65 and older having
Alzheimer’s. Risk factors are characteristics of your lifestyle, environment, and genetic background that
increase your likelihood of getting a disease. By knowing what these risk factors are, lifestyle
adjustments can be made for future longevity.
Be mindful of your Brain.
Why is brain awareness important to begin talking about now? The prevalence of Alzheimer’s is
increasing, part of this is due to the baby boomer generation, but how can we help them and prevent
rapid decline. In Figure 2 below, you can see the preclinical AD phase of “No Symptoms” first, this phase
is due to Alzheimer's being a slowly progressive brain disease that begins many years before symptoms
emerge, actually it is thought to begin 20 years or more before symptoms arise, with changes in the
brain that are unnoticeable to the person affected. 1 As much as 20 years or more? To me that seems like
people should begin thinking about brain health and what can be done to prevent cognitive decline well
beyond any symptoms arise. What do you think?
Figure 2: Alzheimer’s disease (AD) continuum. *MCI is the acronym for mild cognitive impairment.
Oxidative Stress and Gene Expression
Oxidative stress has been recognized as a contributing factor in aging and in the progression of multiple
neurodegenerative diseases including AD. Increased production of reactive oxygen species (ROS)
associated with age- and disease-dependent loss of mitochondrial function, altered metal homeostasis,
and reduced antioxidant defense directly affect synaptic activity and neurotransmission in neurons
leading to cognitive dysfunction. As you can see, by reducing oxidative stress throughout your life, many
disease processes can be addressed. With Alzheimer’s the cases are influenced by a variety of factors
including environmental exposure, genetic risk factors, mitochondrial dysfunction, age, and sex.
The best-known genetic risk factor for
Alzheimer’s is the APOE‐e4 genotype, with
modern advances in mapping out genetic
expression, people can think ahead and
understand their biological implicated disease
risk. With the prevalence of women
developing Alzheimer’s being 2/3 of a rate
compared to men, it makes you wonder why
are women affected at a greater rate than men?
A standout factor is sex hormones. Women have such a vast spectrum of hormone fluctuations
throughout their lives from puberty, menarche, pregnancies, and into menopause. Balancing hormones
has so many added benefits on overall health and can be managed by natural and effective methods
such as Acupuncture and Herbal Medicine.
Acupuncture is a safe and effective therapy for alleviating symptoms
of diseases and improving the quality of life. Acupuncture can also
improve memory and improve cognitive impairment. Various animal
studies have found that the therapeutic effects of acupuncture may
be achieved via multiple pathways, including clearing Aβ protein
deposition, inhibiting tau protein hyperphosphorylation, prompting
neural transmission, reducing oxidative stress. Your Acupuncturist
will select a specific point combination to address your individual
symptoms and disease processes. A few of my go-to points for
memory are Baihui (GV-20) and Sishencong (EX-HN 1).