Lifestyle changes, not a magic pill, can reverse alzheimer’s disease
Last summer, a team from the university of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) quietly unveiled new treatments for the results of alzheimer’s disease. What they found was amazing. Although the size of the study was small, each participant showed significant improvement, and nearly all participants were found at the end of the study in a normal memory and cognitive test range. In function, this is the equivalent of a cure.
The discovery of these are important, not only because as the population ages, the alzheimer’s disease is expected to become more and more common, and because the best current treatment can provide the improvement of the minimum. Last July, a large clinical trial found no benefit for patients receiving a major new drug, LMTX. After that, another promising drug, one of the hallmarks of amyloid, alzheimer’s disease, also failed its first large clinical trial. Just two months ago, Merck announced a trial of a drug called verubecestat, which is designed to inhibit the formation of amyloid beta. It was found to be no better than placebo.
UCLA didn’t end up with an incredible new drug or medical breakthrough. Instead, the researchers used an agreement made up of a variety of lifestyle modifications to optimize metabolic parameters associated with alzheimer’s disease, such as inflammation and insulin resistance. Participants were advised to change their diet (lots of vegetables), exercise, develop stress-management techniques, and improve their sleep interventions. The most common “side effect” is weight loss.
The study not only showed significant results, but also showed an alternative paradigm for treating complex chronic diseases. To understand the molecular basis of alzheimer’s disease, we’ve spent billions of dollars hoping to cure or at least be more effective. Although we have greatly expanded our understanding of this disease, there has been no successful treatment.
This situation is similar to what we are struggling with in many other chronic diseases, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease, even if it is not very large. While we do have effective drugs for these conditions, there is no perfect job, and both have negative effects. Our understanding of the cellular processes underlying these diseases is complex, but the mastery of technology – the holy grail of healing – remains elusive.
Acknowledging these difficulties, researchers at the university of California, Los Angeles, have chosen a different approach. From alzheimer’s disease is a special manifestation of highly complex chaotic systems, they try to optimize the system by changing inputs. In other words, scientists chose to give up the box that had been proved so exciting and focused on the background of the box itself. While we can’t say exactly how the intervention works, at the cellular level it’s important that it works.
The method is not entirely new. Researchers have shown that, in many ways, a comprehensive lifestyle intervention can significantly improve the outcome of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and hypertension. But these methods are hard to get traction for two reasons. First, these are more challenging than taking birth control pills before bed. Patients need continuous education, counselling and support to make meaningful changes. Secondly, the medical treatment mode is deeply rooted in our current medical system. Insurance companies are set up to pay for medical bills, not lifestyle changes. Doctors teach pharmacology, not nutrition.
Despite these difficulties, it is time to start taking these approaches seriously. The prevalence of alzheimer’s disease is expected to triple in the next 30 years, to nearly 14 million in the United States alone. Diabetes and other chronic diseases are expected to follow a similar trajectory. Trying to use drugs against this epidemic will lead to new problems, from expensive costs to adverse effects, without addressing any underlying causes. We know that a holistic lifestyle change can treat many chronic diseases, in some cases and in medications. At the end of the annual review, this is not only worth mentioning, but it should also be a cornerstone of not only treating alzheimer’s disease but also treating all chronic diseases.