Published on: February 18, 2010
by Dr. Mercola:
Controlling blood pressure just might be the best protection yet known against dementia.
In a flurry of new research, scientists scanned people’s brains to show hypertension fuels a kind of scarring linked to later development of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. Those scars can start building up in middle age, decades before memory problems will appear.
Scientists have long noticed that some of the same triggers for heart disease — high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes — seem to increase the risk of dementia, too.
But for years, they thought that link was with “vascular dementia,” memory problems usually linked to small strokes. Now they have learned that factors like hypertension also seem to spur Alzheimer’s disease-like processes.
What is Alzheimer’s?
Alzheimer’s disease is a chronic form of dementia that results in severe memory loss and eventually death. The average lifespan of someone with Alzheimer’s is about eight years, although many can survive up to 20 years with proper care.
The Major Four Culprits Causing Alzheimer’s
There are four huge factors responsible for the nerve damage that leads to Alzheimer’s disease:
Insulin resistance is a major factor in elevating your blood pressure, as well as for packing on excess weight, elevating your lipids, and elevating your blood sugar. If you are producing too much insulin, you’re going to be at risk for all of these—and Alzheimer’s as well.
It isn’t surprising that there is a correlation between hypertension and Alzheimer’s disease. After all, Alzheimer’s is tied to:
Studies show that if you eat a diet high in animal-based omega-3 fats, like high quality krill oil, you will lower your risk for Alzheimer’s. But increasing your omega-3 isn’t enough—you must also decrease the amount of omega-6, because the ratio between the two is important.
Aluminium, along with other heavy metals, is prevalent in your environment and can accumulate in the soft tissues of your body. Aluminum in your brain has been shown to increase Alzheimer’s risk. Aluminum can also be found in many common products including dental amalgams, antiperspirants, some antacids, aluminum cans, non-stick cookware, and vaccines.
Mercury is another factor in dementia, having been shown to lead to the formation of “amyloid plaques.”
Scientists have reported that even trace amounts of mercury can cause the type of nerve damage that is characteristic of the damage found in Alzheimer’s disease—for example, the amount that leaches into your tissues from a dental amalgam.
Insulin Resistance and Alzheimer’s Disease
Insulin resistance is associated with both heart disease and dementia, so it follows that elevated blood pressure would be associated as well.Insulin is produced by your brain, as well as by your pancreas.
Insulin and insulin receptors in your brain are crucial for learning and memory, and it’s known that these components are lower in people with Alzheimer’s disease. In your brain, insulin binds to an insulin receptor at a synapse, which triggers a mechanism that allows nerve cells to survive and memories to form.
However, researchers have found that small toxic proteins, called ADDLs, in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients remove insulin receptors from nerve cells, rendering those neurons insulin resistant. It has been suggested that ADDLs accumulate in the beginning of Alzheimer’s disease (by forming sticky clumps), thereby blocking memory function.
There is even a test that measures ADDL in your spinal fluid, claiming to detect Alzheimer’s disease in its early stages.
Another link between insulin resistance and Alzheimer’s is inflammation caused by excess body fat. Fat cells produce substances that affect your immune system, which in excess, trigger inflammation. And inflammation in your brain is thought to be one of the precursors to dementia[i].
The best way to lower your risk for both hypertension and Alzheimer’s is to drastically decrease the foods that cause your pancreas to flood you with insulin.
Fortunately, the steps you take to manage your blood pressure will also serve to lower your Alzheimer’s risk.
Could it All be One Disease?
We have known for a long time that nearly all chronic degenerative diseases are related, and most have similar underlying causes.
But the link between hypertension, insulin resistance, and dementia really illustrates how body imbalances can lead to “multi-system failure”—meaning, multiple diseases.
But here’s the good news: successfully addressing one problem will typically improve all of the others.
Six years ago I commented on a report published in the Journal of Hypertension that found high blood pressure related to a decline in cognitive function for adults of all ages. The long-term study utilized 20 years of data about blood pressure and cognitive performance.
Clearly, the idea that blood pressure and Alzheimer’s are linked is not new.
You Can Prevent High Blood Pressure and Alzheimer’s at the Same Time
You can normalize your blood pressure and lower your risk for Alzheimer’s disease by implementing a few simple techniques that address the underlying causes of both:
Although it’s great to celebrate the big achievements, it’s also important to celebrate the small wins.
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