A big, new autopsy study found many older people with extensive pathologic changes in the brain (the kind said to “cause” Alzheimer’s dementia) show no cognitive signs of dementia.
In an editorial that accompanied the study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, a reviewer wrote, “pathology is not destiny.” In my experience as a forensic pathologist, I always thought that statement rang true.
To come to this conclusion, scientists autopsied more than 1,200 brains as part of the Rush Memory and Aging Project and the Religious Orders Study. These two large, prospective studies have tracked the cognitive health of almost 3,000 older men and women for the past two decades.
Overall, these studies found a complete lack of association between the pathological findings of dementia in the brain and the participants’ actual cognitive function while living.
On the one hand, they did find pathologic evidence of Lewy bodies and other pathologic abnormalities related to Alzheimer’s dementia or vascular brain disease (inadequate blood and oxygen to the brain) in people who had shown healthy cognitive function throughout their lives.
On the other hand, they found few signs of pathological abnormalities in the brain in some people with substantial cognitive decline as they got older. Basically, there was a total disconnect between what experts saw in the brain upon autopsy and the participants’ actual cognitive function.
Furthermore, they only found cellular abnormalities of the brain in about half the cases of confirmed dementia. The other half had essentially “normal”-looking brains. So, even if you have the “classic” brain evidence of dementia, there’s only a 50:50 chance that you actually have dementia!
Regardless of what the brain cells showed (or didn’t show), the researchers found exercise (mental and physical), sense of purpose and motivation, and social interactions all strongly affected cognitive function and resilience.
As you know, potential drug treatments only target the pathologic abnormalities of the brain, which turn out to have only a 50:50 chance of predicting cognitive decline. So the mainstream has been missing at least half the equation.
No wonder big pharma’s drug treatments are a complete bust
Even if mainstream drug treatments for dementia did work as intended, according to the researchers of the new studies, they would only benefit about one-third of the cases.
The authors of the new study argue we should focus on the brain’s own defense mechanisms — the old “self-healing” approach of natural medicine. But the National Institutes of Health (NIH) committed only $12 million to investigating these more natural approaches in 2016.
Of course, as I told you last month, the Obama administration approved hundreds of millions more dollars to study the same, old failed approaches to dementia, which haven’t worked after two taxpayer-funded “Decades of the Brain” research. (Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton promised to funnel $2 billion more to these same, failed approaches if she’s elected in November.)
That’s the way the NIH likes it — ever more money without actually having to do anything much differently or get real results.
Despite the billions spent already on brain research, it was actually a famous heart study that provided clues as to how social factors influence the risk of cognitive decline.
Scientists recently presented new results from the venerable Framingham Heart Study at the recent American Neurological Association meeting. They found that social support for older people increases levels of a protein called “brain-derived neurotrophic factor” (BDNF). It also reduces risk of dementia and stroke. Newer research links higher BDNF with slower cognitive decline, even in people with pathologic abnormalities of the brain.
More generally, The Framingham Heart Study and other new research shows the importance of good cardiovascular health in maintaining healthy brain function throughout life. This study began in 1948 in Framingham, Massachusetts, and has followed three generations of participants to identify risk factors for heart disease.
It turns out, some of the most striking new findings are about brain health.
The mainstream discovers the mind is connected to the body after all!
Unfortunately, the half-hearted mainstream approach to diet, cholesterol, and other risk factors for cardiovascular disease has been at least half wrong for decades. As is the mainstream approach to dementia.
But scientists are finally beginning to put the two halves together.
For more about the specific natural approaches that support the brain’s own self-healing mechanisms (now newly “discovered” by NIH), check out this month’s Insiders’ Cures newsletter. (If you’re already a newsletter subscriber, you can access the February 2016 issue on my website, www.drmicozzi.com, with your username and password. If you’re not yet a subscriber, now is the perfect time to get started.)
Also, keep an eye out for my new Alzheimer’s Reversal Protocol to be released later this year.
- “The Brain Fights Back: New Approaches to Mitigating Cognitive Decline,” Journal of the American Medical Association 2015;314(23):2492-2494