The authors, Peter Whitehouse, MD, Ph.D, an Alzheimer Disease (AD) clinician and researcher, and Daniel George, Ph.D, Assistant Professor at The Penn State College of Medicine, write not only about the disease but also about healthy aging, the power of the pharmaceutical industry and the healing qualities of alternative and complementary therapies.
The main point of the authors is that AD is a myth. They explain that it is a normal process of aging of the brain. One could question this since certain types of environmental pollution such as electromagnetic radiation are now being said to be a cause of early on-set AD which is becoming more common. Genetics can explain only about half of these cases.
Modern medicine is characterized by an emphasis on drug treatment for diseases of dementia. It does not focus enough on the individual and the family, nor does it consider non-conventional treatment.
The label “Alzheimer’s” is driven in large part by the pharmaceutical industry and others, including the United States National Alzheimer’s Association, to maximize research, which together with drug marketing, costs $100 billion per year. As with most diseases, we would do better to invest this money in prevention and care, rather than the search for a cure.
For now, there is no known cure for AD. Medicines, while able to slow the progress of the disease, have overall proven not to enhance life-quality. They have serious side-effects. Doctors are now treating pre-AD states, a condition called “mild cognitive impairment”, fabricated by pharmaceutical industry to earn more profits.
Dementia is explained by interactions of neurochemicals, genetics, environment, life-story, personality. It is not just a question of “plaques and tangles” but also of the death of neurons caused by diminution of the blood supply. Another hypothesis is that oxidation – free radical accumulation in the brain – damages nerve cells. The brain is assaulted by external agents such as infections, pesticides and other environmental pollutants (lead, mercury), tobacco smoke, radiation. Long-term build-up of the effects of drugs in the body can also cause dementia, for example, statins and psychiatric medications.
AD is difficult to diagnose. Its pronouncement dooms a human being to a slow, passive demise and renders him a burden to his family. AD invites exclusion. I see this when I visit my mother at the assisted living home where “healthier” residents fear visiting those afflicted with AD who number one-third of the residents. This attitude reinforces a sense of abnormality and isolation in the persons with AD, even in the best quality care residences.
The authors discuss the evils of the pharmaceutical industry in general. In the United States, this industry spends $5.7 billion on marketing to doctors – that’s $6,000 per year per doctor. One should not take the latest, newly-advertised drugs since these have not been adequately tested, cost more and have usually not been proven to be more effective than older drugs.
Alternative and complementary therapies are discussed such as those which encourage hope. One should be made to feel one can still contribute to family and society. “We need to break from the mindset that sees memory loss as a disease”, say the authors. The doctor-patient relationship, spending time with the patient and professional commitment, is very important.
Ways to prevent dementia are discussed. A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, B vitamins, omega 3’s, fish is very important. The authors believe that the “mismatch between the ancestral genome man has inherited and foods we now eat (consider too the large amounts of toxins in industrially-produced food) may be playing a substantial role in the epidemics of obesity, diabetes, cardio-vascular disease and AD.”
In order to prevent dementia one should strive to live an active and engaged life. It is important to avoid stress, engage in regular physical exercise, listen to music, connect with nature, seek out high levels of mental stimulation, commit to a cause which involves helping others. The quality and length of education is important. The greater the complexity of our mind, the more valuable we may be to society. “One of the keys to successful aging is to do what you love for as long as you can.”
A 2006 article in The Lancet is cited which talks about the role of industrial chemicals in causing neurodevelopmental disorders (metals, solvents, pesticides) and the exposure of children to these substances at prenatal stage. Public officials are called upon to identify the neurotoxicity of industrial chemicals in food, drinking water and the environment and to strictly regulate those with neurotoxic effects.
The authors conclude with the ways in which we can improve the environmental health of our local and global community: treat our loved ones better, protect the bodies and minds of younger generations, take an interest in the development of younger people, take responsibility for the environment, and take better care of our bodies and minds.
by Meris Michaels
(Refer to the site "Myth of Alzheimer's" , book published in 2008).