Surviving Medicine Part 3: Avoiding Alzheimer’s

The advent of the scientific method has produced great human triumphs over the vagaries of nature, especially when it comes to healing sick bodies. Modern ‘healthcare’ is a miracle of human ingenuity and business innovation. However, many of the medical treatments on offer today and in the past are not based on any an ethical framework. Much of what the health industry and health authorities both advise and mandate does more harm than good. Money is a factor in the healthcare industry even if it’s offered by the government. In this series, I’m seeking to tell the stories of treatments that are miracle cures, incredible advances, and spectacular disasters. Negotiating the world of doctors, medicines, treatments, and bureaucracies is necessary if one wants to reap the benefits and avoid the disasters.

The final days of my dad haunt me still. He stayed beside my mother as her physical health declined and his mental health, as measured by his ability to carry on tasks and conversations, declined apace.  With her declining ability to stay upright, he declined to carry on a conversation.  

At first, I saw in his eyes fear and confusion. He knew what was happening to him. Towards the end, two years later, I saw peace. If he knew what had happened to him, he had come to terms with it. He declined to 106 pounds, and a couple of weeks later, died in his sleep.

Since I was the trustee of his estate, I needed a death certificate to accomplish my duties, and I added it to my mother’s death certificate, who had died 13 months earlier. On my dads’ death certificate, it states a cause of death: Alzheimer’s.

This rankles me for several reasons, but mainly because it’s a guess. He had dementia, and he was in decline, but Alzheimer’s isn’t a specific disease that kills; it’s an idea about what causes dementia. His death certificate is factually incorrect. No one knows what killed him.

Just because my dad died alone and asleep after two years of mental isolation doesn’t mean that we can’t know about what might be coming and do everything we can to forestall or prevent this dreaded way to reach the end of life.

We begin with the man associated with dementia. Who was and what is Alzheimer’s?

Alios Alzheimer was a German neurologist who was born in 1864 and educated in several universities in Bavaria. He didn’t live long but in his 51 years, he did some pioneering research around ‘presenile dementia’ after observing senile-like symptoms in a women held at an asylum in Frankfurt. When she died at 56, he performed an autopsy on her brain and discovered what was termed ‘amyloid plaques’ in her brain tissue.

What are amyloid plaques? Here we enter the first gate of mistakenly believed causes of dementia, senility, or Alzheimer’s. Amyloid comes from the Latin word for starch, amylum, and this name stuck because the ‘father of pathology,’ Rudolf Virchow, misidentified the substance when it was first encountered. Amyloid plaques are proteins that fold up in a certain way which inhibits the function of cells, specifically neurons. It was these misfolded proteins that Alzheimer identified in the brain of his dementia patient, and he attributed her decline to these structures. Thus, the theory of dementia caused by the misfolded proteins was first declared. This theory has held up extremely well over the years, so well that it is right there on my father’s death certificate even though amyloid means starch, no autopsy was performed on my dad, and Alzheimer himself has been dead for over 150 years.

There is a far more interesting theory that can be summed up in one easily understood phrase: Type 3 Diabetes.

A little diabetes history here is mandatory.

Type 1 diabetes used to be called ‘juvenile diabetes’ and it was most common in children. It is characterized by a complete lack of insulin created in the pancreas and is believed to be an autoimmune disorder. The child’s immune system kills the insulin making cells in the pancreas, thus leaving the child with no insulin at all. The high blood sugars that result can only be addressed by taken in insulin from the outside. This is called ‘insulin dependent’ because if this person doesn’t get insulin from the outside, he or she will die, and if this person gets too much insulin at once, this can also cause death. Before the discovery of insulin and the creation of injectable insulin, Type 1 was a death sentence. Starvation was the best defense against high blood sugars and so these poor souls didn’t eat much. As late as the mid-1970s, even with insulin available, kids diagnosed with juvenile diabetes were told they wouldn’t live past 30. A Type 1 must walk the tightrope between too much and too little insulin for their entire lives. Only better tools for managing insulin dosing have increased their lifespans which, after 100 years of research, are starting to reach the point that was can say Type 1 diabetes is a treatable disorder. It took generations of suffering and experiments to get here and we all owe the Type 1 survivors a debt of gratitude for what we’ve learned.

Type 2 Diabetes, formerly called ‘adult-onset diabetes,’ is the kind far more common now and it is characterized as the body’s inability to use the insulin still manufactured in the pancreas. Over time, the cells of the body become ‘insulin resistant’ and so as the blood sugar levels rise and the pancreas releases insulin the cells demand more insulin than is present in the blood, and so just as with a Type 1, the blood becomes thick with sugar, and this has a highly detrimental effect on the body. Prolonged high blood sugar creates blood flow problems all over the body but specifically in the feet and often in the eyes, and eventually the kidneys fail because they are tasked with filtering the glucose-laden blood year after year. Type 2 diabetics need more insulin than their body can make, and so they, too, are insulin dependent to survive. Complications often ensue, and Type 2 diabetics don’t generally live as long as those without insulin resistance. Strokes, heart attacks and kidney failure are what kills them. Unlike with a Type 1, lifestyle is the dominate factor in Type 2.

This brings us to the unofficial and sad phrase called Type 3 Diabetes. Type 1 was formerly called juvenile diabetes since it mostly affected kinds, Type 2 was called adult-onset diabetes because insulin resistance came on in adulthood and Type 3 is the kind of diabetes that comes affect elders. Type 3 diabetes is not accepted as a real thing by the American Diabetes Association. Nevertheless, there is volumes of information about it online. Here is a tiny sampling:

From the National Institute of Health in 2008:

Epidemiologic studies provide convincing evidence for a significant association between T2DM and MCI or dementia and furthermore suggest that T2DM is a significant risk factor for developing AD.

T2DM is Type 2 Diabetes Millitus. AD is Alzheimer’s Disease.

From the Mayo Clinic:

Type 3 diabetes occurs when neurons in the brain become unable to respond to insulin, which is essential for basic tasks, including memory and learning. Some researchers believe insulin deficiency is central to the cognitive decline of Alzheimer’s disease.

From the NIH republished study in 2022:

Insulin stimulation plays a key role in the clearance of β-amyloid by preventing extracellular accumulation and the final formation of fibrils and plaques.

And so, we came back Alios Alzheimer, long dead, and his plaque observation in brain of a dementia patient in Frankfurt. Something happens to your brain when you run high blood sugars and don’t exercise for decades on end. What gives you ‘adult-onset’ diabetes then goes on to destroy your brain later in life. Diabetes is true the gift that keeps on taking.

So, why don’t we have a cure for this disorder? There are a variety of perspectives, but it comes do to just a few things. 

From the Alzheimer’s Association, there is this:

Here are the three main obstacles we need to overcome:

  1. Lack of funding. Dementia research is severely underfunded compared to other major diseases, such as cancer, HIV/AIDS and even COVID-19. The mistaken belief that Alzheimer’s only affects older people adds to this underfunding.
  2. Conflicting theories about the cause. The human brain is extremely complex, and Alzheimer’s disease is one of the most complex diseases of the brain. Clinical trials based on theories involving beta-amyloid and tau proteins have so far failed. While new theories hold promise, it will take funding and time to investigate them.
  3. It’s not simply one disease. Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia may be in fact a collection of diseases, which may have different causes and therefore, different treatments and cures.

Hm, that seems odd. A disorder so prevalent can’t find funding. Why not? Here is one idea.

Still, the amyloid believers persisted. Not just persisted. The goal of mitigating amyloid in the brain has held a vise-like grip on Alzheimer’s research for decades, despite the fact that, one by one, the drugs designed to address amyloid—around twenty of them— have shown virtually no beneficial effects on patients.

It comes down to this; in the same way that Ansel Keys drove the faith that too much animal fat caused heart attacks, there is a faith that amyloid plaques drive Alzheimer’s and alternative theories can’t find currency even though there is ample evidence that Type 2 diabetes leads to Alzheimer’s. Alzheimer’s IS Type 3 Diabetes. It’s the blood sugar, stupid. And it’s the food that drives the blood sugars.

While we’re on the subject, why is there no cure for Type 2 Diabetes? This is because the ‘cure’ involves a lifestyle change that our modern civilization will not fully accept. We must stop eating so much sugar and carbohydrates, and we must radically, not marginally, but radically, increase our activity levels. What gives us senile dementia and Alzheimer’s is what gives us Type 2 diabetes; it’s our lives and how we live them. Our homes, meals, and entertainments are all perverting our bodies which were build for the tough and uncertain hunter-gatherer life. Meanwhile the ‘research’ plods along, looking for a pill that will clear the amyloid plaques, and no such pill is coming.

SURVIVAL PLAN: You must avoid becoming a Type 2 to avoid becoming a Type 3. There are medical treatments for obesity, and in extreme cases, it’s better to use the medical system to lose weight than live with the obesity, but mostly, it’s better to lose the weight the old-fashioned way. Bariatric surgery is one medical option, and now there is a drug called semaglutide that suppresses appetite, and this, with lifestyle changes, will increase the chances of success, but not listen to any voice that tells you Alzheimer’s is unavoidable, and that excess weight is acceptable. It is not. You can get medical help with your weight, but be careful because they will hook you on blood pressure medication and with management methods for being fat, but what you want is to lose the weight, keep it off, and keep your mind intact for your whole life.

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