In this review I go into more depth about the two most common neurodegenerative diseases Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s and also talk a little about Lewy body dementia which is relatively similar to Parkinson’s. I will highlight the most common symptoms of full-term illness and also diffuse pre-neurological symptoms you can keep track of in order to be able to intervene early and make changes in your diet and lifestyle.
For those of you who read the first post, I spent several days taking a new course in Cognitive Impairment & Dementia to get the very latest research on what are the triggers and what can help. I thought I would dive right into the disease processes and easily explain the differences between Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
If we start with the similarities in neurodegenerative disease (NDS), there are free radicals in the brain, neuroinflammation, proteins / structures that clump together, the cleansing of diseased cells and proteins that fail, dysfunctional synapses and damaged nerve cells / nerve tissue. All this (and much more) leads to neurological structural changes and thus lost function in the motor, sensor and cognitive parts of the brain, nervous system and intestine (ie in the CNS and ENS (nervous system in the intestine).
Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia where unhealthy proteins accumulate in the brain and the neurotransmitter acetylcholine decreases. The proteins beta-amyloid form plaque, and tau form the ball which lead to dysfunctional neuron function, abnormal synaptic transmission, neuroinflammation and eventually neuron death. In a healthy brain, unhealthy proteins are cleaned away, but in the brain of someone with Alzheimer’s, this cleaning does not work, and so these levels build up over the years. The most common symptoms in people with Alzheimer’s are memory problems where long-term memory disappears, impaired executive function (the ability to sift, prioritize and plan and inhibit bad behavior), visuospatial difficulties, impaired control of muscles and the inability to coordinate movements, difficulty speaking and recognizing people and objects. You simply do NOT want to end up here! Medications that remove plaque have been shown to work very poorly and often make the person worse. The plaques are probably there to protect, and when they are removed cause further damage to the person suffering from this illness.
Instead of treating this disease in a monovariable way, one should not only also include a more multivariate approach but also pay attention to early symptoms in order to prevent? I live by this philosophy. I mentioned in the last post about my slightly wild childhood and six full-scale concussions. I’m terrified that I’ve suffered brain damage that I will one day regret. At the same time, I also said that my brain works so much better now compared to how it worked when I was around 30. I have research and studies that show that risk factors for dementia are affected by the following; people with the APOE4 gene are up to five times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s, high homocysteine, anemia & low B12 (these values can be tested in blood, so feel free to contact us if you want help with blood tests), blood vessel problems, too high and too low blood pressure , obesity & diabetes (mainly vascular dementia), lung problems, pathogens (infections), dysbiosis (imbalance in the intestinal flora), pollution, smoking & toxins, inflammatory diet, long-term sleep problems & sleep apnea, cognitive & physical inactivity, head injuries & concussions. All of these factors contribute to neurodegeneration and inflammatory processes in the brain. I hope you realize that there is NOT ONE reason, risk factor and root cause for Alzheimer’s (or any other NDS for that matter) hence the reason why monovariate treatment works poorly.
Getting Alzheimer’s is not something you want, so it is best to identify diffuse symptoms that creep in early. These can in some cases start 20 or more years before any diagnosis so it is important to pay attention and connect them. Impaired short-term memory (where did I put my keys / wallet?), Poorer executive ability and multitasking. Concentration and orientation difficulties (initially mainly in stressful situations). Personality and mood changes, confusion and apathy. Depressive symptoms are also common as half of all people with Alzheimer’s suffer for years or even decades, before the disease finally breaks out.
Over to Parkinson’s. This is the most common neurodegerative motion sickness. A similar story with neuroinflammation and unhealthy proteins that clump together in the brain and disrupt neurons. This time it is the neurotransmitter dopamine that is the smoking gun, and the disease is more common in men. In Parkinson’s, it is mainly the formation of Lewy bodies, sometimes called the Parkinson’s protein, that builds up and can cause symptoms. Typical symptoms for Parkinson’s are stiffness where the person suffers from slow muscle movements such as arm swings, blinking, forward leaning stiff gait and difficulty getting up. Stiff face with flattened facial expressions called mask face is another common symptom. Shaking (tremors) is a typical feature of Parkinson’s that many people probably recognize and may have seen in the elderly. Other symptoms include difficulty writing, hoarseness, monotonous or weakened voice, sleep problems and constipation. You do NOT want to come here either!
Even with Parkinson’s, you can look for early signs, ie pre-motor symptoms, long before the neurological symptoms appear. Dysphagia, ie difficulty swallowing, is something that people with Lewy bodies often suffer from. Maybe your voice has changed or you are chronically hoarse? You may have noticed that the sense of smell has deteriorated (hyposomy) and does not return? The scents that are most involved in studies are coffee, anise and peppermint and this is something I test in my clinic. Other very early symptoms are depression / anxiety, sleep problems, poor memory, mental activity and process of problems / tasks, orientation, confusion, pain, fatigue and personality changes. Constipation is another clue, which I briefly wrote about in the post “Constipation and ideal sausages”.
In a study where men were followed over a 24-year period, the researchers saw that people who developed Parkinson’s had an almost three-fold increased frequency of constipation. The gut or your ENS is sometimes affected for decades before symptoms in the brain develop. The researchers were also able to conclude that the risk of developing Parkinson’s decreased as regular bowel movements increased. I quote Dr. Michael Gershon, a professor at Columbia University:
”What that observation could suggest is that the reason these people are constipated is that they’ve already got Parkinson’s disease and that it’s showing up in the gut before it’s showing up in the brain ”
Of course, it’s not good that Lewy bodies develop in either the gut or the brain, but it is wonderful that the research has already come this far! Now we no longer have to wait for the disease to have advanced so much that we can hardly do anything about it. Now we can dive deep into the intestinal flora and the four “F” – color, shape, firmness and frequency.
Lewy body dementia (LBD) is an under-prioritized and less mediatised type of dementia that also mostly affects men. Research often combines LBD and Parkinson’s into one and the same group because there are similar processes in the brain and both affect dopamine. You could almost say that it is like a precursor to Parkinson’s and also Alzheimer’s. The most common symptoms that between 75-90% of LBD patients suffer from are; stiffness in the body and hands, loss of arm swing, worm face, constipation, lost sense of smell and possible tremors.
There are some core symptoms that differentiate LBD from Parkinson’s. One is visual hallucinations. The person in question sees things / people / animals / colors that do not exist and are often aware that this is an illusion and does not hide / say anything to their fellow human beings. Visual hallucinations are a symptom that can be present long before a diagnosis, usually 5-10 years but sometimes as long as 20-30 years earlier. Another big difference is that LBD sufferers often have very disturbed REM sleep, with active dreams, fencing, screaming and can actually at times harm their partners. Disturbed and wild sleep usually starts 5-10 years before LBD is actually determined. Another core symptom is fluctuating attention spans and alertness. You vary between being alert (mentally and physically) and confused and tired, and these episodes can be anywhere from a few minutes to a few days.
I can imagine that some of you who read this post might feel weighed down. Maybe you recognize yourself? Or maybe you are thinking of a dear friend or family member who you know suffers from certain symptoms? Regardless, the intention is not to scare, but I want to inform about how common it is for people to suffer from NDS and why we do not want to end up in this situation. At the same time, there is a lot we can do by identifying pre-motor and pre-neurological symptoms at an early stage before ending up in a disease that unfortunately does not have a positive outcome. In the last part, I will go through what research shows how functional and lifestyle medicine can help with early cognitive impairment.
All Nordic Wellth nutritionists work according to the same model. We have developed well-developed guidelines to ensure that all consultations maintain the same high standard, regardless of which therapist you go to. In addition to solid training from England, all therapists are coached by me so that our thinking in the consultation process is homogeneous. This way of working has been very successful for our clients. With us, you are in good hands no matter where in the country you live.
Live well, be well!
This is a guest post. Any opinions expressed are the writer’s own.