The Bredesen Protocol is a new, exciting possibility for the treatment of Alzheimer’s. It is defined as a multi-factorial lifestyle and nutrition based approach to treating and reversing the disease. In terms that you and I would understand, this means the programme involved almost exclusively dietary and lifestyle intervention.
But what exactly does this mean, and how is it different to traditional approaches to Alzheimer’s ? First, we need to look at how Alzheimer’s affects the brain and understand why it is so important to treat it early on.
What is Alzheimer’s?
Alzheimer’s disease is a degenerative disease of the brain that is the most common cause of dementia. It leads to a host of debilitating symptoms ranging from memory loss to struggles with cohesive thought, language and problem solving.
These symptoms are the result of brain damage caused by the build up of proteins. The proteins cause “plaques” and “tangles” inside the brain, blocking the connections between nerve cells and causing the cells to die – gradually killing the brain tissue.
Alzheimer’s also causes shortages of certain chemicals that are essential for the transmission of electrical signals across the brain (also known as neurotransmitters). A shortage of these chemicals means that signals chant be effectively transmitted from one part of the brain to another, which unsurprisingly can lead to a variety of different problems for individuals.
The number of cases of Alzheimer’s has grown rapidly over the last few decades, and the disease has affected almost all of us through friends or family members that have suffered or died as a result of the disease.
It is estimated that 30 million people suffer form Alzheimer’s across the globe, and this number is expected to rise to 160 million by 2050. Alzheimer’s is the third leading cause of death in the USA and is the leading cause of death in women in the UK (second leading cause of death for men). Understandably, Alzheimer’s is feared by many of us.
Aside from the shocking statistics, there are two main reasons that Alzheimer’s is a particularly scary disease.
- Firstly, it is degenerative. This means that over time more and more parts of the brain become affected, making symptoms become exponentially worse.
- Secondly, it has long been considered an untreatable, unpreventable and irreversible disease – although as we will see the Bredesen Protocol challenges this idea.
Is Alzheimer’s a single disease or three different ones?
Before we look at the Bredesen Protocol’s approach to treatment, we need to consider a major distinction that it makes from traditional medicine. Namely, that Alzheimer’s actually comes in three different sub-types, rather than being a single disease. These are:
- Inflammatory – which sees an increased numbers of biological markers such as C-reactive protein, and an increase of the ratio of serum albumin to globulin. Both are biomarkers of systemic inflammation.
- Non-inflammatory – neither of the two biological markers are increased, but there other measurable metabolic abnormalities. This is also referred to as ‘cold alzheimer’s’ and is usually linked to low vitamin D levels and high homocysteine.
- Cortical/distinctly different – this sub-type most commonly affects younger people. It is generally distributed more widely across the brain than the other sub-types. People who suffer from cortical/distinctly different Alzheimer’s are always deficient in zinc – usually to toxic levels.
Alzheimer’s needs a networked approach rather than a single approach
The Bredesen Protocol argues that traditional drug treatments or other therapies that target Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases with a single approach have simply failed. After all, hundreds of millions of pounds have been spent developing such treatments, and yet there is currently no effective treatment for the disease.
This argument is based on recent genetic and biochemical research that has given us a glimpse into the various molecular interactions that work together during the onset of Alzheimer’s. With this logic, the Bredesen Protocol claims that a make networked approach is more likely to be effective than a single one.
According to Professor Bredesen, who revolutionised the approach, we need to target Alzheimer’s by bringing together a number of different biological processes, each one designed to improve cognitive functioning. He argues that any single-approach therapy does nothing more than provide marginal and temporary improvements to the symptoms of Alzheimer’s, rather than having an effect on the progression of the disease.
The professor uses the metaphor of a roof with many holes to describe his approach. Single-approach drug therapies tend to plug just one of these holes, having little effect on the problem as a whole. Conversely, the Bredesen Protocol aims to simultaneously plug dozens of the holes in an attempt to control the overall condition.
A multi-approach treatment for Alzheimer’s
The Bredesen Protocol aims to tackle Alzheimer’s in this way by targeting a range of its symptoms simultaneously. The approach aims to identify and address the various areas of imbalance within the brain by making a range of positive changes to the sufferer’s diet and lifestyle. These include getting regular exercise, minimising stress, optimising sleep, and stimulating the brain at regular intervals.
Which symptoms does the Bredesen Protocol target?
The dietary and lifestyle changes that together form the Bredesen Protocol simultaneously address a number of symptoms of Alzheimer’s, including:
- Brain tangles
- Metabolic issues
- Hormonal imbalances
- Gut health and microbial balance
- Nutritional deficiencies
- Genetic errors
- Insoluble and soluble beta-amyloid (also known as brain plaques)
The Bredesen Protocol in clinical trials
Much to the excitement of the medical industry, the Bredesen Protocol has shown positive signs in a recently-published study. The treatment was shown to successfully reverse cognitive decline in people suffering from the early staged of Alzheimer’s and its precursors.
Nine of the ten patients showed objective or subjective improvements from the treatment, from symptoms including memory loss and cognitive impairment. Six of the patients who had given up work were also able to return to their jobs without difficulty.
What Does the Bredesen Protocol Involve?
- Diet: Optimize diet: minimize simple carbohydrates, minimize inflammation. Patients given choice of several low glycemic, low inflammatory, low grain diets. Fast for 12 hr each night, including 3 hr prior to bedtime.
- Sleep: Optimize sleep. 8 hr sleep per night; melatonin 0.5mg po qhs; Tryptophan 500mg po 3x/wk if awakening. Exclude sleep apnea.
- Exercise: 30-60 minutes per day, 4-6 days per week.
- Stress: Reduce stress. Personalized (yoga, meditation or music, etc.)
- GI Health: Repair if needed; prebiotics and probiotics
You can read the whole protocol in the original published paper here. Dr. Bredesen describes a 36 point intervention that includes such things as optimising blood chemistry and mitochondrial function, keeping homocysteine below 7, increasing ketogenesis, keeping A1c below 5.5, optimizing vitamin D levels, and adding sources of good fat for the brain like coconut oil.
Interestingly, the recommendations of the Bredesen Protocol are very similar to what those of us who are fans of “paleo” recommend – avoid simple (refined) carbohydrates, eat a low grain diet, aim for 8 hours sleep per night, exercise and reduce stress.
Coconut Oil for Alzheimer’s
In 2008, Dr Mary Newport published a report entitled “What is there was a cure for Alzheimer’s Disease and no one knew” In this report she discusses the role that coconut oil can have in helping halt the progression of Alzheimer’s. Her interest arose because one of the drug’s being used to treat Alzheimer’s was based on MCT oil (the type of fat found in coconut oil). Since she could not get her husband onto the clinical trial for this drug, she tried giving him virgin coconut oil instead.
While coconut oil alone is unlikely to be able to treat/reverse Alzheimer’s disease, it is something that merits further research.
With these encouraging results it seems that the Bredesen Protocol could revolutionise the treatment of Alzhmeimer’s disease, and turn what has traditionally been an incurable disease into something that is manageable (and maybe even reversible). We are excited to see how the next round of clinical trials will progress.