Prevent Alzheimer’s for 10 pence a day. It’s just 6 sents.
In a recent survey in Britain, the fear of developing Alzheimer’s overtook the fear of developing cancer for the first time. This increased fear is a direct consequence of many more stories in the media, and even movies about Alzheimer’s. Most people also know someone who has, or has died from, Alzheimer’s and know it’s not a pretty sight. It’s extremely worrying, in fact. We are living longer and the odds of developing dementia in your 80s, most of which is Alzheimer’s anyway, are one in five. (Dementia is diagnosed on the basis of symptoms – losing your memory etc; Alzheimer’s is diagnosed with a brain scan showing brain shrinkage in certain key areas.)
With an ever-ageing population, at least in the Western world, one in five is a lot of people. Already the cost of looking after people with Alzheimer’s, estimated at £23 billion and growing, is more than the cost of all cancer and heart disease combined. These levels of ever increasing healthcare costs are giving health regulators and economists sleepless nights.
The 10p-a-day vitamin supplement that tackles dementia
With these kind of costs and massive public concern there’s potentially big bucks to be made if you could come up with a drug that prevents Alzheimer’s. It already exists – except it’s not a drug. It’s a combination of inexpensive B vitamins that might cost you 10p a day.
The discovery, made by Professor David Smith and his team at Oxford University is that raised blood levels of homocysteine can predict Alzheimer’s risk, can cause the damage in the brain and, most importantly, can be lowered with high doses of B vitamins, well beyond the RDA, simultaneously stopping further memory loss or accelerated brain shrinkage, precisely in that area of the brain that is the hallmark of Alzheimer’s. It’s a major discovery but there’s no money in this for the big guys.
Innocently, you might think that health officials would be swinging from the rooftops to get any genuine prevention plan into action. The cost savings would be immense. I asked Professor David Smith what needs to be done. He replied, “Although we proved that those people with raised homocysteine levels above 10 (which is about three quarters of all people over age 70) suffering from mild cognitive impairment (MCI) can have substantially reduced brain shrinkage and memory loss by taking B vitamins, the next step needed is a trial of 1,000 people with MCI to see if B vitamins prevent the conversion to dementia over a two-year period. Can AD be beaten? I am optimistic.”
Why are we wasting billions?
But he can’t get the money.
Despite David Cameron, the UK prime minister, doubling spend on Alzheimer’s research, neither the UK Medical Research Council nor the US National Institutes for health will put up the money to prove, once and for all, this incredibly important discovery. Instead, it’s more money for drugs.
The whole political and healthcare system is so tied up with the pharmaceutical industry that any talk about an approach that threatens the massive potential drug market is going to be actively suppressed. It’s the same old story. They want a patentable, profitable drug.
There’s just one problem. And it is a major problem: None of the drug trials has worked. Vast sums of money have been wasted.
In 2010 there was an article in the Lancet headed ‘Why are drug trials in Alzheimer’s disease failing?’ David Smith wrote in saying “You suggest several reasons why trials in Alzheimer’s disease are failing but you do not consider an obvious one: That the hypothesis on which most Alzheimer’s trials are based might not be valid. If a scientist does several experiments on the basis of a hypothesis and they all fail, he will abandon the hypothesis. Why are we so reluctant to do this in medicine?’
So, how much is enough, when it comes to B vitamins
Despite over 70 studies all confirming the homocysteine memory loss connection, it is extraordinary (or to be expected depending how you look at it) how much this breakthrough is being ignored. See the evidence [link to www.foodforthebrain.org/hcyevidence] The solution is as simple as increasing your intake of B vitamins.
But be clear: We are not talking about a ‘well balanced diet’ level of B vitamins. The levels of B vitamins that have been proven to both lower homocysteine and stop this accelerated brain shrinkage and memory loss are up to a hundred times higher that the basic RDAs. You need 20mg of B6 (the RDA is 2mg), 800mcg of folic acid (the RDA is 200mcg) and 500mcg of B12 (the RDA is 1mcg/2.4mcg in the US). The reason for the need for these high amounts, especially for B12 is that the older you get the less well you absorb it from your foods.
Here are a few of the factors known to increase your need for B vitamins and/or to raise dangerous homocysteine levels:
• Lack of exercise
• Lack of vegetables
• Lack of fish and eggs
• Diabetes drugs (metformin)
• Antacid drugs (PPIs)
Of course, the majority of people over 50 will tick at least half these boxes. This is why it is essential to supplement more B vitamins as you get older, as well as improving your diet and lifestyle.
Early screening is essential
In an enlightened health care system we would be testing everyone over 50 for early signs of cognitive decline, and if positive, checking for raised homocysteine. If that was above 10mcmol/l, which is the level above which there is clear evidence of accelerated brain shrinkage, we would be prescribing high dose B vitamins.
How long, in reality, will it take for this to happen?
If it takes 10 years, with 18,000 people in the UK being diagnosed with dementia every year, that’s another 180,000 people who could have been helped, but weren’t.
So our charity, the Food for the Brain Foundation, decided to build a free on-line Cognitive Function Test, with the guidance and tests developed by two of the world’s leading experts in cognitive function testing. To validate it we had a group of people perform the accepted paper and pencil tests used to diagnose cognitive impairment, as well as our own on-line Cognitive Function Test. The results were identical.
The Cognitive Function Test went live in the spring of 2011 and, largely thanks to a front page in the Daily Mail, over 150,000 people have now taken this simple test. It is available at www.foodforthebrain.org. If you don’t score so well you get a letter to take to your GP recommending that they investigate further and test your homocysteine level.
I should point out that all this work – running a free Cognitive Function Test, promoting valid steps to take to help prevent Alzheimer’s, running a website that close to a million people visit every year – costs money and we get absolutely no help from government agencies who continually talk about the urgent need for ‘prevention’.
We also need to further research and improve the Cognitive Function Test. David Smith and other homocysteine researchers struggle to get money to do their vital, independent research,.
If you would like to know more about what you can do right now to prevent Alzheimer’s, you could also read my book The Alzheimer’s Prevention Plan [link to http://www.patrickholford.com/index.php/shop/bookdetail/289/. In a nutshell there are four main drivers of brain damage – a lack of homocysteine lowering B vitamins, not enough omega 3 fats, too much sugar and carbs, a lack of antioxidants. Correcting these is what’s going to make a real difference. Not failed drugs.