In almost every country, the proportion of people aged over 60 years is growing faster than any other age group, as a result of both longer life expectancy and declining fertility rates. There are currently nearly 900 million people aged over 60 years living worldwide, by 2025, this number is expected to reach more than 1.2 billion.
Why is that of interest?
Well we’re not all ageing well and as our population ages we’re also seeing an increase in the prevalence of chronic diseases, including dementia. In America 1 in 10 people over 65 years and nearly half of over 85 year olds have dementia. The local statistics are not that specific, but it currently affects over 40,000 Kiwis with projections of over 200,000 people being affected in the next 50 years.
Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is the most common form of dementia accounting for between 50% and 60% of all dementia. The hallmarks of AD are ‘plaques’ and ‘neurofibrillary tangles’ in the brain which are essentially abnormal proteins form. Tangles lead to death of brain cells which then reduces the brains ability to transmit signals clearly. AD is a progressive disease, which means that gradually, over time, more parts of the brain are damaged. As this happens, the symptoms become more severe.
There are many factors thought to contribute to the development of AD, though there are no known actual causes. So what can you do to protect yourself against such a scary and rapidly increasing disease that has no known cause or cure? Essentially all we can do is try to look after our brain health in as many way and as early on as possible; I’ve written recently about the ‘Factors Affecting the Health of Your Brain’ ‘The impact exercise has on our brain health’.
That’s the general preventative advice for looking after yourself, and it’s good advice. But for those of us looking for a little something more, maybe due to increased risk factors, there is hope. With AD (and dementia in general) having such a huge global impact there is a lot of scientific research into different compounds that might just be able to cure, or at least delay the onset and severity of AD. Previously we’ve written about how natural compounds such as curcumin, omega 3 and coenzyme Q 10 can help keep our brains healthy but there is one ingredient that has been starring in the media again recently and with good reason: Resveratrol.
Resveratrol is a natural compound that is found at low concentrations in the skin and seeds of more than 70 different plant species, including grapes, berries, grains, tea, and peanuts – it is the primary compound that has us believing that red wine is good for us. The latest human research into resveratrol found that it was able to stabilise the progression of AD in patients with mild to moderate forms of the disease; of equal importance, even at the high doses administered in this trial, resveratrol was found to be completely safe. But this is not the first research to be done on resveratrol.
Many studies over the years have been on animal models, but new research is focused on confirming the findings of those earlier studies in humans.
The key mechanisms of resveratrol that researchers are investigating are:
• Ability to reduce inflammation in the brain
• Antioxidant free radical scavenging activity
• Improved mitochondrial function (energy powerhouses in our cells) via activation of SIRT1 (SIRT1 is a protein that plays a fundamental role in cellular aging, DNA repair and inflammation)
• Reduced formation of neurofibrillary tangles and amyloid plaques
• Overall neuroprotective effect
So where does that leave us now?
Essentially more research needs to be done to confirm the clinical significance of resveratrol on Alzheimer’s disease; but that doesn’t mean you have to wait to start taking resveratrol. For most of us it is wise to look at preventative measures while we are younger, from a naturopathic perspective we should be doing a number of things including eating well, exercising regularly, not smoking, getting lots of antioxidants and enough essential fatty acids (as outlined in our previous articles) and supplementing with low to moderate doses of key nutrients such as resveratrol. For people with a diagnosis of dementia or AD already, then as well as all of the previous things, you could also look at taking higher doses of well researched nutrients – such as resveratrol.
While the evidence may still be coming in, the studies have shown that it does not cause any harm. As always, continue working with your qualified medical professional.
‘World Alzheimer’s Report 2015: The Global Impact of Dementia – An analysis of prevalence, incidence, costs and trends’ Accessed 21 Sept 2015, Available: http://www.worldalzreport2015.org/downloads/world-alzheimer-report-2015-summary-sheet.pdf
Pasinetti GM, Wang J, Ho L, Zhao W, Dubner L. ‘Roles of resveratrol and other grape-derived polyphenols in Alzheimer’s disease prevention and treatment.’ Biochimica et biophysica acta, 2015 June; 1825(6):1202-8
Elder Family Matters, ‘Dementia Care – Elder care resource for people living with dementia’ Accessed 21 Sept 2015, Available: http://www.elderfamilymatters.co.nz/Dementia_care.html
Alzheimer’s New Zealand ‘Alzheimer’s Disease Information Sheet 1’, Accessed 21 Sept 2015, Available: http://www.alzheimers.org.nz/getmedia/c1976147-d699-4d1f-8434-c3efa43e86f6/Info_Sheet_1_Alzheimers_Disease.pdf.aspx
Turner RS, Thomas RG, Craft S, van Dyck CH, Mintzer J, Reynolds BA, Brewer JB, Rissman RA, Raman R2, Aisen PS; Alzheimer’s Disease Cooperative Study. ‘A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of resveratrol for Alzheimer disease.’ Neurology, 11 Sept 2015, Epub ahead of print http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26362286
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Leonard S. S., Xia C., Jiang B. H., Stinefelt B., Klandorf H., Harris G. K., et al. ‘Resveratrol scavenges reactive oxygen species and effects radical-induced cellular responses.’ Biochem. Biophys. Res. Commun. 2003; 309:1017–1026
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Teng Ma, Meng-Shan Tan, Jin-Tai Yu and Lan Tan. ‘Resveratrol as a Therapeutic Agent for Alzheimer’s Disease’ BioMed Research International, 26 Nov 2014