"There is insufficient evidence to support the efficacy of any intervention to prevent or treat cancer … "
This is likely the message we would be hearing from a panel of experts if the resources invested in the study of cancer were on par with those invested to date in the prevention of Alzheimer's disease.
The pessimistic findings announced last week by the National Institutes of Health, State-of-the-Science Conference: Preventing Alzheimer's Disease and Cognitive Decline, speak more to an ongoing lack of focus on Alzheimer's prevention than to an actual dearth of promising preventive strategies.
The panel was convened for the right reasons. We know that Alzheimer's disease presents a looming health crisis.
More than 5 million people in the U.S. alone suffer from this devastating disease and that number is expected to skyrocket as baby boomers rapidly join the ranks of the over 65.
We also know that Alzheimer's disease is preventable. The brain is flesh and blood just like the rest of the body. It is an organ just like the heart, and as an organ, it needs adequate blood flow, oxygen, nutrition, energy, and exercise to remain healthy and strong.
For many years it has been known that the amounts of fat, and certain vitamins such as vitamin C and vitamin E, were important for optimal brain function. Moreover, research has revealed that people who exercise on a regular basis have less memory loss, and that chronic stress leads to cognitive decline. Recent research also tells us our cholesterol level is important for our brain just as it is for our heart.
The tragedy has been the lack of focus on, and research dollars directed to, effectively evaluating interventions to prevent this horrific disease.
When I began working toward preventing Alzheimer's disease in 1993, my ideas were ridiculed and met with hostility by many of my medical colleagues.
As one of the first voices to speak about the notion of preventing Alzheimer's disease, I consider it a personal victory that this NIH panel was even convened. It is proof that modern medical thought is finally catching up.
Now, we must heed the grave warning implicit in the panel's findings. If we do not invest significantly in designing a research program to prevent Alzheimer's disease, millions upon millions of people will slowly be lost and ultimately die because we did not do enough.
I am convinced that no single drug or intervention will ever prevent or cure Alzheimer's disease.
The only effective way that I have found to combat this disease is to apply an integrative prevention and treatment program. An integrative program is one that combines certain pharmaceutical medications with dietary supplementation, nutritional therapy, physical and cognitive exercise, stress management and mind-body therapy.
Despite the dismal prognosis from these government scientists, promising evidence of preventive strategies abound.
For instance, the Alzheimer's Research and Prevention Foundation recently announced the results of a pilot study that are published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease.
The study shows that a simple 12-minute daily meditation improved cognition and increased blood flow in the brains of people with memory loss.
We must stop focusing exclusively on finding a single magic bullet for Alzheimer's prevention, and instead commit significant resources to designing large-scale trials to identify the constellation of interventions that will effectively prevent Alzheimer's disease.
E-Mail Dharma Singh Khalsa at Drdharma@alzheimersprevention.org