A Hidden Cause of Alzheimer’s Disease

When you think ahead to your senior years, you likely envision a retirement filled with travel, socializing, and spending time with your precious grandchildren. But this isn’t the reality for an estimated 5.4 million Americans who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease—quite possibly one of the most feared age-related conditions of our time. Even more striking, this number is expected to increase 30 percent by 2025 and triple by 2050.

Currently, Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the US. No cure and very few treatments exist. The ones that do aren’t very effective, and they do nothing to halt the progression of the disease.

And that may not change soon. Research into Alzheimer’s is not nearly as well funded as other conditions like cancer and heart disease. However, scientists are beginning to make some important discoveries that may one day pave the way for more successful treatment options and, ideally, a cure.

Until then, your best option is to focus on prevention. And research is clearly showing that one of the most important things you can do right now to lower your risk is to reduce chronic, low-grade, systemic inflammation.

Plaques and Tangles

The brains of Alzheimer’s patients almost always have two hallmark signs indicative of the disease: plaques and tangles.

Plaques are caused by the accumulation of a sticky protein called amyloid beta. These plaques disrupt or block cellular communication in the brain.

Another protein called tau leads to the formation of tangles. An overabundance of tau collapses the usually straight highways where nutrients and other important materials travel throughout the brain. When these highways become twisted and tangled, they can no longer carry essential components to brain cells, causing them to eventually die.

How Inflammation Comes Into Play

Whenever you experience an injury, infection, or illness, your body initiates an acute inflammatory response to attack the foreign invader so that your body can heal. This same type of inflammation occurs in the brain to “gobble up” the harmful amyloid and tau proteins and the cells they’ve damaged.

You’d think this would be beneficial, but research has found that this inflammatory process, when it occurs constantly, causes sustained damage that can actually accelerate the progression of Alzheimer’s.

But it doesn’t end there.

Emerging science indicates that the injury to the brain caused by chronic inflammation may even play a role in the formation of plaques and tangles as well. Inflammation releases compounds that are toxic to neurons and lead to the damage and destruction of brain cells, eliminating the pathways by which these cells communicate.

While this sounds pretty ominous, there is a silver lining. If you can take the steps necessary to ward off inflammation, you may be able to lower your risk of plaques and tangles associated with Alzheimer’s, and therefore reduce your chances of developing the disease.

Dampen Inflammation and Protect the Brain

At what age should you start thinking about Alzheimer’s prevention? The answer is now. One of the major problems with Alzheimer’s disease is that it begins years, even decades, before doctors see the signs and symptoms of the disease.

The typical American lifestyle (poor diet, lack of exercise, environmental pollution or toxins, and uncontrolled or excessive stress) is notoriously pro-inflammatory. So, just your day-to-day activity (or inactivity) can unknowingly set the stage for chronic, low-grade inflammation.

Early research suggests that certain nutrients and lifestyle habits may decrease inflammation and at the same time support healthy brain function. Four of the most promising include:


This medicinal compound found in the Indian spice turmeric acts as a natural anti-inflammatory. It can also potentially decrease risk for Alzheimer’s disease by interfering with the pathway that leads to tau and amyloid beta plaques.

Phosphatidylserine (PS)

PS is an essential component in the membranes of all your cells, but it’s especially abundant in brain and nerve cells. Your body makes PS on its own to maintain healthy cell function, but supplementation with this phospholipid has been shown to improve memory and mental decline associated with aging. Just as importantly, preliminary studies indicate that PS has anti-inflammatory properties as well.

Omega-3 essential fatty acids

Omega-3s provide anti-inflammatory benefits to the brain (and rest of the body). And according to one meta-analysis, they have a “protective role in mild cognitive impairment, dementia, and the risk and progression of Alzheimer’s disease in the elderly.”The omega-3 DHA, in particular, helps construct cellular membranes and protect neurons. Even more exciting, a study reveals that when PS and DHA are taken together, there’s “significant improvement in sustained attention and memory recognition.”You can boost your omega-3 intake either by taking an omega-3 supplement or by eating fatty fish (such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, and sardines). But unless you eat fish most days of the week, you probably aren’t getting enough…which is why taking a supplement is an excellent “insurance policy.”

Even if you do supplement, though, don’t discount the benefits of eating fish regularly. A study published last year found that weekly consumption of baked or broiled fish was “positively associated with gray matter volumes.” Gray matter contains most of the brain’s neurons and includes regions of the brain involved with memory, emotions, decision-making, and senses.

The researchers wrote, “These findings suggest that a confluence of lifestyle factors influence brain health, adding to the growing body of evidence that prevention strategies for late-life brain health need to begin decades earlier.”


Numerous studies have demonstrated that healthy people who are physically active are less likely to experience a decline in their mental function. Importantly, a meta-analysis conducted in 2009 concluded that increased physical activity reduced the risk of developing Alzheimer’s by 45 percent.And once a person has Alzheimer’s disease, exercise has been shown to be a powerful strategy for slowing the decline in physical and cognitive function.

Exercising for 30 to 60 minutes a day, several times a week, appears to slow the brain’s reduction in nerve-to-nerve connections—a process that naturally occurs with aging. Physical activity also helps the brain by keeping your blood flowing and increasing certain chemicals and messengers that protect the brain from damage. Additionally, as we have discussed before, the right types of exercise reduces inflammation—an important driver of numerous inflammatory diseases, including Alzheimer’s.

So don’t wait. Take care of your brain today to help keep it as healthy as possible for decades to come.

About Author

Brian Matthews

Brian Matthews is the President of Gene Smart and the leader of our Gene Smart team. His mission is to provide supplements to help you control your inflammation, your weight, and your life, based on the latest scientific information.

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