Understanding and Treating Neurodegenerative Diseases
You don’t have to look very hard these days to find news stories mentioning neurodegenerative diseases. Just this week, researchers announced new indications of a link between Alzheimer’s disease and Type 2 diabetes. And just the week before, far too many articles appeared in newspapers across the country paying tribute to far too many prominent and everyday people who passed away after suffering from ALS, Multiple Symptom Atrophy, Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, and Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases.
So, it stands to reason why now — more than ever — it is important to understand what’s possible to prevent the onset of neurodegenerative diseases. Additionally, June just so happens to be Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month!
Neurodegenerative diseases occur when neurons (nerve cells) in the brain, spinal cord, and other parts of the body begin to deteriorate and eventually die, resulting in dysfunction of the body’s nervous system. Early symptoms of neurodegeneration may include:
- Loss of coordination
- Impaired memory
- Changes in mood
- Loss of inhibition
- Inability to cope with normal levels of stress
Over time, as more neurons are damaged or die, symptoms worsen, impacting one’s ability to think clearly, walk without assistance, or care for themselves.
Loss of cognitive function can lead to dementia (impaired memory and reasoning, along with personality changes). Breathing and heart function can also be diminished. Some neurodegenerative diseases ultimately result in death. In fact, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the sixth leading cause of death in the United States is Alzheimer’s disease, which ranks just below stroke.
Neurodegenerative Diseases Statistics and Data
According to the Harvard NeuroDiscovery Center, 5,000,000 American suffer from Alzheimer’s disease each year; 1 million from Parkinson’s disease; 400,000 from multiple sclerosis (MS); 30,000 from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease); and, 30,000 from Huntington’s disease.
As our population ages, estimates are that by 2030 more than 12 million Americans will suffer from neurodegenerative diseases — diseases that typically develop in mid-life to later in life, and often — but not always — have a genetic component.
Conventional medicine has no cure for neurodegenerative diseases and few effective treatment options. Available treatments are generally limited to slowing the progression of the disease or alleviating specific symptoms. Patients and their families are given little hope for improvement. They’re often given no choice but to come to terms with the certainty of progressive deterioration of health and quality of life.
Here at Restoration Healthcare (a Southern California Functional Medicine practice with a clinic in Irvine), in addition to supporting patients to prevent the onset of neurodegenerative diseases, we offer customized treatment plans for addressing their root causes, with the objective of preventing further functional decline and perhaps even reversing the course of an otherwise debilitating condition, disorder, or disease.
Chronic Inflammation’s Connection to Neurodegenerative Diseases
We do not believe that you have to take a passive approach with a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Lewy Body Dementia, or any other neurodegenerative disease. Instead, we encourage you to take a functional medicine approach to these diseases — an approach that first and foremost focuses on identifying and addressing the contributory factors of the disease.
To us, the symptoms and diagnosis of neurodegenerative diseases are merely clues in a mystery that needs to be solved. Symptoms are the first clue, and they lead to a diagnosis, but that’s only the first step. The diagnosis points to the next clue — inflammation. Neurodegenerative diseases are neuroinflammatory conditions(inflammation of nerve cells causes them to begin to deteriorate and misfire). So, we treat the inflammation and the problem goes away, right?
No, inflammation is just another clue to follow. We then ask, “What’s causing the inflammation?” and the answer to that question often points to a dysregulated immune system. In a weakened state, a malfunctioning immune system can be due to a host of factors, including having an increasingly difficult time of warding off infectious agents, such as bacteria and viruses. When that occurs, the immune system sends out more and more antibodies and sensitized leukocytes (types of white blood cells) to combat these alien invaders.
Unfortunately, in some cases, the antibodies and leukocytes can be too aggressive, and they begin attacking healthy cells in addition to the pathogens. It’s at this point that degenerative neurological diseases can take hold, and when patients are often diagnosed with one. It’s also the time when many patients are found to be living with chronic inflammation.
Next, we need to figure out what’s causing the immune system dysfunction and what’s stressing it, which can be a single factor or (usually) a combination of factors. These overlapping factors often include one or more of the following:
- Exposure to environmental toxins (including toxic mold)
- Undiagnosed infections (such as Lyme disease)
- Gut dysbiosis (imbalance of bacteria and other microbes in the digestive system)
- Brain trauma
- Food allergies or sensitivities
- Leaky gut
- Nutritional deficiencies or impaired processing of nutrients
- Hormone deficiencies or imbalances
- Insufficient or excessive exercise
- Emotional stress or anxiety
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Poor sleep (quantity or quality) or sleep apnea (a disorder in which breathing is briefly and repeatedly interrupted during sleep)
In many cases, we need to dig deeper to find the underlying cause(s) of these disfunctions; for example, we may need to identify the source of the mold exposure (such as water damage in the home), or help patients identify the sources of disrupted sleep patterns. Each patient is different, so we team up with each one individually in order to solve the mystery of the underlying health issues at play.
Taking a Functional Medicine Approach to Neurodegenerative Diseases
Diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, allergies, asthma, Alzheimer’s, osteoporosis, hypertension (high blood pressure), and many other chronic illnesses are all inflammatory conditions. They’re all connected. In fact, if you’re experiencing any of these conditions now, chances are good that you have already have or will develop another chronic inflammatory condition. These other conditions may just take longer to develop or diagnose.
Because so many chronic diseases are related to inflammation, and because conventional medicine has such a poor track record for treating these illnesses, much of our practice involves diagnosing and treating inflammation and the underlying causes of inflammation.
The first step in slowing, stopping, and reversing deterioration of health and/or the onset or advancement of a neurodegenerative disease caused by chronic, systemic inflammation is to obtain a thorough exam consisting of a physical exam, patient history, and lab tests. Using that data, we can begin to unravel the mystery of what’s causing the illness and dysfunction and treat those underlying causes in order to restore optimal health, function, and fitness.
Getting Help for a Degenerative Neurological Disease
If you or a loved one have been diagnosed with a degenerative neurological disease such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, or Lewy Body Dementia, and conventional medicine hasn’t offered you any hope, consider completing and submitting our New Patient Packet today.
Don’t lose hope, and don’t choose to accept cognitive decline just another “natural part” of the aging process that cannot be stopped or reversed. Treatments may be available, with identifying the root cause(s) of the decline being a key first step. Once the causes are identified, they can be addressed through customized treatments plans that are handcrafted and managed by your Restoration Healthcare doctor, such as our Co-founder and Medical Director, Dr. Sunny Raleigh, or one of our physicians — Dr. Walid Faraj or Dr. Tamara Kurmanalieva — each of whom closely coordinates their work with our Co-founder and CEO, Dr. Thomas Bakman, who plays an integral role in the functional neurology side of our practice.