While pursuing our education in neuroscience and neurochemistry over the past 20+ years, there has never been a time that so clearly shows the mechanism of neuro-degenerative diseases like these. Understanding the physiology helps us understand the limitations of existing medications, the future direction of pharmaceutical research and development, and most importantly, what can be done before a problem ever appears.
“There are as many as 5.4 million Americans living with the disease and every 69 seconds someone in America develops Alzheimer’s disease, according to the Alzheimer’s Association’s 2011 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures.”
There were an estimated 411,000 new cases of Alzheimer’s disease in 2000. That number is expected to increase to 454,000 new cases a year by 2010, 615,000 new cases a year by 2030, and 959,000 new cases a year by 2050. Alzheimers accounts for 60% of all dementia cases
The second most common neurodegenerative disease in the U.S. is Parkinson’s disease. Parkinson’s is one of the leading causes of dementia.
Around 14 million baby boomers can expect to develop dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease.
- Early detection is currently not very helpful but “earlier” signs may be. By the time the early signs of memory loss in Alzheimer’s and the earliest tremors detected in Parkinson’s, the disease has already progressed to a very advanced stage physiologically (in the brain). It is believed that the earliest signs of Parkinson’s are evident only after 75% of the neurons in the affected part of the brain (mid brain) are lost. We are beginning to identify even earlier signs than memory loss. Research is showing that the earliest signs for Alzheimer’s may first be a decrease in thesense of smell, and the loss of the sense of smell is usually appreciated by a decrease in the sense of taste. Food becomes very bland and we find our selves “spicing it up” as our sense of smell declines. Constipation is now considered one of the early signs of Parkinson’s disease as well.
- Inflammation: Neuro-degenerative diseases like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, Picks disease, MS, ALS among others have a lot in common with mild traumatic brain injury (MTBI), concussion syndrome, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome etc. The major commonality is inflammation.
- Genes: The genes associated with most chronic diseases are not like the genes for blue eyes or blond hair. In other words if you have the genes you have the characteristic or the disease. There is no specific gene for Alzheimer or Parkinson. The genes involved in chronic disease are mutations triggered by an environmental event (epi-genetics). An ongoing exposure to a particular environmental stressor, which may be identified, has to come together with genetic factors to increase the probability of expressing a particular disease, like a perfect storm of sorts.
- Traditional medicine is a long way from providing solutions for neuro-degenerative diseases because medication is usually targeted to one factor of physiology or genetics and this process involves many processes and genes at the same time. We encourage continued research and the search for a “wonder drug” but the truth is we have not seen a “wonder drug” in the field of neuro-psychiatry ever. The track record of pharmaceuticals up until this point has been under performing drugs with often unacceptable side effects that do nothing about the further progression of the disease or health of the individual.
- Natural medicine along with a comprehensive understanding of family history, personal health history, lifestyle stressors (physical, chemical and mental), blood chemistry, hormonal regulation and immune system antigens will likely be the approach of the future that will not only be preventative but will promote health, increase quality of life and prevent a host of other diseases. This is an altogether new and distinct third branch of medicine called “Functional Medicine”.
Here is the definition as stated by Charles Gant, MD, PhD
functional medicine is a third and completely different discipline from alternative/holistic and conventional medicine. Functional Medicine’s uniqueness stems from its’ heavy reliance on certain basic sciences. These sciences include toxicology, biochemistry, physiology, anatomy and genetics, which in widely varying degrees are part of the educational curricula of all licensed health care professionals. These basic sciences are also referred to as ‘pure sciences’ because they conform more rigorously to scientific method.
But, again, functional medicine is neither conventional nor alternative. It is poised to revolutionize all medical care because it is based on far more rigorous standards of scientific method. Functional medicine will ultimately be shown to achieve better outcomes than either conventional or alternative medicine, especially for the treatment of chronic medical and psychological disorders.
The baby boomer generation cannot afford to wait until a diagnosis is made. That may be too late. Having a comprehensive functional assessment is critical.