Alzheimers Disease

When I was Minister for Social Justice there were demands for giving grants to build Alzheimer’s disease Homes - a disease unknown in India till the 1970s. In the West the first 150 cases happened in 1948, rose to 600 by 1978. Now there are 500,000 cases in the U.K., 250,000 in Canada and 4.5 million in the U.S. 10% of people over 65 in the US have it and 50% of 85 year olds. It is now very much in India – which means homes have to be set up as it is almost impossible for anyone to look after an Alzheimer’s patient for a long time.

Alzheimer’s disease is an irreversible brain disorder in which a person loses his capacity to reason, think, recognize and function. The disease progresses from mild forgetfulness to death in just 8 years and is most prevalent in people over the age of 65. 55% of all senility cases are now Alzheimer’s.

Is it to do with old age? If so, everyone would get it. But, the Journal of the American Medical Association shows that very poor people in Nigeria/India are far less likely to develop Alzheimer's disease than their relatives in New York, Obviously it is a lifestyle related disease.

Alzheimer’s is not a normal part of aging. It is caused by sticky plaque-like deposits and neurofibrillary tangles that kill off brain cells until all memory disintegrates. Ultimately the patient dies.

What is the cause of this deadly epidemic? There is no mention of anything that could be considered Alzheimer’s disease in any medical or other literature before 1900. In the last 100 years, Alzheimer’s disease has gone from non-existence to a disease that affects 12 million people yearly and kills 200,000 people.

Dr Murray Waldman is the coroner of Toronto. He is a professor of Toronto University and medical director of a large rehabilitation hospital. His book Dying for a Hamburger has taken the medical world by storm.

He contends that Alzheimer’s is caused by a protein called a prion. The same prion that causes Mad cow Disease, (bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE), variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD), and other neurodegenerative diseases called transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs ).

Prions are misshapen proteins normally found in the nervous systems of animals. When prions come into contact with normal proteins, they cause these proteins to become misshapen, too. As the chain reaction continues, more and more proteins become misshapen and begin to impair normal neurological functions. In all prion diseases the brain is clogged by dense deposits and dementia is the major symptom. The disease shows up only in later age. It is irreversible. All these factors are true of Alzheimer’s.

Waldman correlates the growth of the industrial meat industry (where cows are fed meat and chickens fed other chicken) and meat eating directly to the increase in Alzheimer’s. WHO’s figures correlate with Waldman’s theory. After researching the spread of Alzheimer’s disease, Waldman concludes that Alzheimer’s disease behaves like an infectious disease, not something congenital. He has linked the spread of the disease to industrialized nations that eat factory-farmed animal meats, saying that, just like mad cow disease, Alzheimer’s disease is the result of the modern factory farm and increased meat consumption in the last century. Till a few years ago scientists denied that mad cow disease could be transmitted to humans through beef. Now hundreds of people who ate infected beef have died of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD), with perhaps lakhs more at risk. Could the same scenario hold true for Alzheimer's disease?

Waldman shows that Alzheimer’s disease first showed up in medical records at about the same time that world meat consumption began to rise and makes a direct correlation between the levels of meat consumption and the number of Alzheimer’s disease afflicted across the world. In countries, where meat consumption is lower, Alzheimer’s disease is much lower than developed countries, where meat consumption is high.

The Alzheimer’s Society is the world’s premier body on this disease. Their head of Research, Dr Sorensen, refuses the prion theory (which is weird because the Nobel Prize winner Prof Stanley Prusiner who discovered prions agrees with Waldon) instead, he says that the factors that cause heart disease are the same that apply to Alzheimer’s.

This still makes meat the culprit. Saturated fat and cholesterol have been conclusively linked to heart disease and strokes. So have high levels of a substance called homocysteine and high blood pressure – all created by animal products.

Cholesterol is a waxy solid substance. High levels are found in meat, dairy, eggs, fish. Too much cholesterol damages the blood vessels as it deposits in the arteries. The only time vegetable fats carry cholesterol is when they have been altered by industry to be hydrogenated (hardened for shelf life) High cholesterol doubles the risk of Alzheimer unless you already have the Alzheimer’s gene ApoE in which case it goes up sixteen times. (Only 50% of people with the ApoE gene actually develop the disease – those who eat a high-fat diet during their 40s). 70% of people in the West, according to WHO have high cholesterol

In a 21-year study, investigators examined the association of cholesterol with brain plaques and tangles in people who had died of Alzheimer’s. They found a strong correlation between increased cholesterol levels and increases in the number of plaques and tangles in the brain, the two characteristics of Alzheimer’s disease.

Not only does meat and dairy consumption raise cholesterol, it raises the levels of an amino acid called homocysteine, which is now widely seen as a risk marker for heart disease. The American Heart Association has shown a clear association between homocysteine levels ,heart attack and stroke – and Alzheimer’s.

Boston University investigators have found that elevated levels of Homocysteine increases the risk of Alzheimer’s three fold. Homocysteine is formed in the human liver after ingesting another amino acid, methionine, found in animal food. High homocysteine levels make nerve cells weak and prone to premature death. Like cholesterol it causes deposits in the arteries and 100gms of chicken have more than 12 times of what your body needs. In Alzheimer's patients much higher levels of homocysteine were found than in elderly individuals with no cognitive impairment. In fact, now tests on levels of homocysteine are useful in *predicting* who might get Alzheimer's.

The only things that bring down cholesterol and homocysteine levels are vegetables, green leaves and citrus. People who adopt a diet free of meat, eggs, and dairy products can drop their homocysteine levels by 20% in one week. This is because folic acid, a B vitamin found in whole grains, green vegetables, beans, and other plant-based foods, helps convert homocysteine to another, more useful amino acid.

In a study, reported at the World Alzheimer's Congress in 2000, researchers looked at 5,395 elder individuals who were free from dementia in 1993 and again in 1999. “People who remained free from dementia had consumed higher amounts of beta-carotene, vitamin C, vitamin E and vegetables than the people in the study who developed Alzheimer’s disease”.

The same findings have been reported at Case Western University School of Medicine and University Hospitals of Cleveland, Ohio, and St. George's Medical School in London. Scientists at The Oxford Project to Investigate Memory and Ageing have brought out an ideal menu: it is entirely vegetarian with no milk products. WHO recommends stopping animal based food as exchanging red meat for white, full cream for skimmed, butter with margerine – reduces less than 5% cholesterol.

Why do our doctors not look at prevention – simple, there is no money in that? Medicine, pharmaceuticals and hospitals are huge business. Why do medical colleges not teach nutrition anywhere in the world? If prevention became the norm who would need doctors?

Maneka Gandhi

*Proper wildlife rehabilitation is an extremely biologically and ecologically responsible attitude toward all living things.*