Nutrition and neurodegenerative diseases - Part 2
Daniel-J. CRISAFI, ND.A., MH, PhD
As we saw in the first part of this article, degenerative diseases have a genetic component which - despite what we are sometimes told - has a negligible effect on the development of these diseases. We also saw that nutrition has a significantly greater than heredity effect when it comes to the development of Parkinson's or Alzheimer's. In this second part, I would like to address three topics that also contribute to the development or exacerbation of these diseases: water, environmental pollutants and exercise.
A nutrient is generally defined as a substance that is essential for life that we cannot produce and that we must therefore consume or absorb on a regular basis. According to this definition, water is a nutrient. This nutrient is just as important as the vitamins and minerals discussed in the first part of this article. Indeed, lack of water, or dehydration, has a significant effect on the development of Alzheimer's disease as well as that of Parkinson's disease.
We have known for many years that dehydration can affect cognitive function. Indeed, studies in geriatrics have shown that even mild dehydration can cause a decrease in the capacity of understanding and expression as well as in the memory of older individuals.1 One study has shown that the changes in the brain structure due to dehydration are the same as those present in Alzheimer's disease.2
Let's not forget that the brain is made up of about 75% water. This goes to show how important water is to the health of the central nervous system. Indeed, water acts to protect brain cells, but it also affects the electrical balance of the brain, i.e. its electrical transmissions.
Water has, at the cerebral level, the same functions as it does elsewhere in the body. It is fundamental in regulating body temperature - including that of the brain. It is a solvent that allows the decomposition, the dilution and the elimination of organic waste. Water also transports nutrients (vitamins, minerals, proteins) and oxygen to the cells.
Dehydration should be considered an important factor in the development or exacerbation of neurodegenerative diseases. Preventive measures, at the very least, must be taken. Ensure that you consume enough fluids for proper hydration and avoid diuretics.
Unfortunately, when it comes to dehydration, medically speaking in any case, we focus on acute or chronic dehydration. However, in the field of naturopathy, we know that subclinical dehydration is a form of dehydration that can have a detrimental effect on health. It is important to avoid or reduce the consumption of diuretics such as coffee and alcohol, and to ensure that you drink at least 1.5 to 2 litres of pure water per day. I refer you to my article on water for more information about the importance of water.
One of the best-documented and least well-understood factors when it comes to neurodegenerative diseases is the role of toxic substances, pollutants. Indeed, a growing number of studies associate neurodegenerative diseases with the accumulation of various toxic substances in the brain. Researchers have suggested an association between aluminum accumulation in brain tissue and Alzheimer's disease as far back as the early 1970’s. Unfortunately, and for lack of "irrefutable" evidence, this hypothesis was gradually put aside by most researchers. Nevertheless, in 2010, researchers explained the mechanism by which aluminum can cause Alzheimer's disease. Indeed, researchers at the University of Kentucky were able to demonstrate that aluminum increases the production and deposition of small β-amyloid, a recognized cause of this disease.3 Despite this evidence, some researchers have continued to downplay this effect.4 However, new studies have taken up this hypothesis with vigor. In fact, in 2017, British researchers observed a high concentration of aluminum in the brain in all the Alzheimer's patients they tested.5
Aluminum is just one of the environmental toxins that play a role in the development of these degenerative diseases. Indeed, serious studies have linked a plethora of environmental pollutants to the development of neurodegenerative diseases.6 The best-studied "pollutants" include metals (aluminum, arsenic, cadmium, mercury and lead), pesticides, solvents and nanoparticles.7
Since these environmental pollutants are present everywhere, one may wonder why some individuals develop these diseases while others seem to be immune. Without wishing to simplify a difficult subject, I would like to offer a few clues. First, even if they are statistically few, people with predisposing genes are obviously more at risk. Second, studies have shown that some individuals are born with less ability to detoxify these substances.8 Finally, the consumption of foods or supplements that contain substances that neutralize these pollutants reduces the risk of neurological damage.9, 10 This is especially true when it comes to antioxidants.11
The points to remember here are the following. First, reduce the body’s pollutant burden as much as possible. Choose your food sources and the quality of any beverages consumed judiciously. Opt for organic foods as much as possible. Also, avoid, as much as possible, using "chemical" household or body care products that may contain substances that could affect the brain. Finally, make sure you have a healthy diet full of antioxidants and consider using antioxidant supplements as a preventative measure. In some cases, it would be useful to have metal contamination levels checked with hair analysis. This is especially true for people at risk based on their work or home environment or those who are starting to develop neurological symptoms.
Physical exercise has been shown to be very effective both in the prevention of neurodegenerative diseases as well as in improving the quality of life of those who are already suffering from them.12, 13 But what is most interesting at this stage of the research is that exercise has been shown to stimulate the regeneration of neurons.14 Indeed, an increasing number of studies have shown that exercise can improve cognitive function in people with neurodegenerative diseases.15 A two-year study demonstrated that patients who undertook two sessions of resistance exercise per week had a statistically and clinically significant improvement in the symptoms of Parkinson's disease.16
It goes without saying that in affected individuals, the exercise must be adapted to their physical as well as their cognitive ability. But recent studies confirm beyond any doubt that the current trend of overprotecting and isolating people with these diseases goes against the increased need for physical activity. This link between physical exercise and these neurodegenerative diseases reminds me of the saying "use it or lose it".17
I cannot help but question our conventional medical approach that does not seem to take any of these previously mentioned factors into consideration. And, when it does, a willingness to accept these ideas seems to be virtually nonexistent. That said, it is possible to prevent neurodegenerative diseases and to slow down their development once they are present. The same factors that reduce the risk of cancer or cardiovascular disease also affect the development of neurodegenerative diseases. Why not make a few lifestyle changes and put all the odds in your favor? It’s your – it’s everybody’s - choice.
- Adonis Sfera, Michael Cummings and Carolina Osorio, Dehydration and Cognition in Geriatrics: A Hydromolecular Hypothesis, Frontiers in molecular biosciences, 12 May, 2016
- Streitbürger DP, Möller HE, Tittgemeyer M, Hund-Georgiadis M, Schroeter ML, et al. (2012) Investigating Structural Brain Changes of Dehydration Using Voxel-Based Morphometry. PLOS ONE 7(8): e44195
- Murphy, Paul and Harry LeVine III Alzheimer’s Disease and the β-Amyloid Peptide, J Alzheimers Dis. 2010 January ; 19(1): 311
- Tomljenovic, Lucija Aluminum and Alzheimer's Disease: After a Century of Controversy, Is there a Plausible Link? Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, vol. 23, no. 4, pp. 567-598, 2011
- Ambreen Mirzaa, Andrew Kingb, Claire Troakesc, Christopher Exleya, Aluminium in brain tissue in familial Alzheimer’s disease, Journal of Trace Elements in Medicine and Biology 40 (2017) 30–36
- Rebecca C. Brown, Alan H. Lockwood, and Babasaheb R. Sonawane Neurodegenerative Diseases: An Overview of Environmental Risk Factors Environmental Risk Factors Vol. 113 | No. 9 | September 2005
- Miguel Chin-Chan, Juliana Navarro-Yepes† and Betzabet Quintanilla-Vega Environmental pollutants as risk factors for neurodegenerative disorders: Alzheimer and Parkinson diseases Front. Cell. Neurosci., 10 April 2015
- Williams AC, Steventon GB, Sturman S, Waring RH. Hereditary variation of liver enzymes involved with detoxification and neurodegenerative disease. J Inherit Metab Dis. 1991;14(4):431-5
- Pratap Singh, Ravindra & Sharad, Shashwat & Kapur, Suman. (2003). Free Radicals and Oxidative Stress in Neurodegenerative Diseases: Relevance of Dietary Antioxidants. J Indian Acad Clin Med. 5.
- JorgeLimón-Pacheco, María E.Gonsebatt The role of antioxidants and antioxidant-related enzymes in protective responses to environmentally induced oxidative stress Mutation Research/Genetic Toxicology and Environmental Mutagenesis Volume 674, Issues 1–2, 31 March 2009, Pages 137-147
- Albarracin SL, Stab B, Casas Z, Sutachan JJ, Samudio I, Gonzalez J, Gonzalo L, Capani F, Morales L, Barreto GE Effects of natural antioxidants in neurodegenerative disease. Nutr Neurosci. 2012 Jan;15(1):1-9
- Trevor Archer and Christian Jacobsson, Exercise for Neurodegeneration-Related Disorders, J Chronic Dis Manag 1(1): 1001.(2016)
- NAQVI, Danial How exercise can make the symptoms of neurodegenerative diseases less pronounced, Lectures at the MEDLINK Conference at Nottingham University, December 2012
- Eng-Tat Ang, Yee-Kit Tai, [...], and Tuck-Wah Soong, Neurodegenerative Diseases: Exercising Toward Neurogenesis and Neuroregeneration, Front. Aging Neurosci., 21 July 2010
- Carlos Campos, Nuno Barbosa F. Rocha, Eduardo Lattari, Flávia Paes, António E. Nardi & Sérgio Machado, Exercise-induced neuroprotective effects on neurodegenerative diseases: the key role of trophic factors, Expert Review of Neurotherapeutics, 06 May, 2016
- Daniel M. Corcos, Julie A. Robichaud, Fabian J. David. Sue E. Leurgans, David E. Vaillancourt, Cynthia Poon and Miriam R. Rafferty A two‐year randomized controlled trial of progressive resistance exercise for Parkinson's disease, Journal of Mouvement Disorders 27 march 2013
- Maher Colette. Rajeunir par la Technique Nadeau – Le miracle de la Technique Nadeau, Éditions Colette Maher, Canada, 1998.