In Alzheimer's Disease, Functional Medicine, Neurology

A functional medicine approach to inflammation and Alzheimer’s disease



When a degenerative disease changes our or a loved one’s life, we all wish for a quick and painless solution, a magic bullet treatment. Unfortunately, we haven’t reached that point in medical advancement yet – though some would have you think otherwise.

Drugs like aducanumab have been touted as revolutionary fix-alls in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. While I believe pharmaceuticals will continue to play a crucial role, research shows us that they are just one piece of a much larger, more complex, and individualized puzzle.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the role of inflammation in the development and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.  I’ll shine a light on aducanumab’s short fallings and share my functional medicine approach.


When the magic bullet misses the mark

A few weeks ago, I examined Biogen’s aducanumab, a so-called magic bullet Alzheimer’s treatment that proved unsuccessful in three clinical trials. Of course, this setback is not to say that aducanumab – or drugs like aducanumab – won’t play a crucial, life-changing role in the future. But they aren’t the be-all and end-all solutions some make them out to be.

Let’s break down why, starting with what’s called an ARIA.

ARIAs – amyloid‐related imaging abnormalities – are a radiological finding identified in patients treated with aducanumab. Those that carry the APOE4 gene are at higher risk of developing ARIAs. ARIAs aren’t all bad; some people don’t even know they have them. Others, however, become quite unwell. They may experience headaches, brain fog, and nausea, and in some cases, small hemorrhages in the brain.

The connection between aducanumab and ARIAs is unknown, but the risk is one we must be aware of moving forward.  My personal opinion is that people championing aducanumab as a one-stop treatment are missing the mark. It’s inflammation that drives Alzheimer’s disease in the first place – and that’s what needs to be addressed.

Understanding the role of amyloid in the brain

Amyloid is a healthy brain’s normal response to an abnormal signal, and that abnormal signal is the presence of a threat we call inflammation. While it’s true that the persistence of amyloid protein in the brain may lead to the breakdown of nerve cells, the temporary presence may, in fact, be protective.

So, what happens when we give patients with amyloid in their brains a drug designed to forcibly remove that protein? We fail to treat the cause, to address whatever it is driving inflammation (in patients with Alzheimer’s disease, this inflammation is typically found in the blood vessels).

Treating the cause of inflammation

The medical industry is evolving rapidly, and as a neurologist, I am an advocate of the latest and greatest in treatment advancements. But it’s also crucial to understand how these advancements might look in reality.

Think about aducanumab. In the phase two trial, it took 18 months of IV therapy to make a marked difference in the participants. The rate of decline improved by about 30 percent. During that year and a half, should patients and their doctors sit back and wait? Or is there something more we could be doing?

That something more is where functional medicine comes into play.

I believe that aducanumab will become a vital tool in our toolbox, but I also promote the principles of functional medicine. Functional medicine focuses on fighting the cause of each disease, not just the symptoms. In the context of treating Alzheimer’s, this means identifying and addressing the cause of inflammation instead of simply mitigating that inflammation.

Think about it this way: you wouldn’t run a marathon and then skip your next meal. In that scenario, it takes a combination of food and movement to thrive. The same logic can be applied to aducanumab – it doesn’t make sense to use aducanumab without targeting the driving forces behind inflammation, too.

Starting from the beginning

At Sharlin Health and Neurology, our approach to treatment unfolds according to the following five pillars:

  • Identify
  • Investigate
  • Integrate
  • Restore
  • Rebalance and regenerate

With every patient, we start from the beginning: the identify stage. We cannot design a cohesive treatment plan if we don’t spend time investigating the root causes of the disease.

For those living with Alzheimer’s disease, this involves looking beyond the presence of amyloid protein and uncovering whatever it is causing inflammation – this will be different in each and every patient.

When this box is checked, we can create a personalized treatment plan that offers the best of both worlds: thoughtful use of the latest pharmaceutical treatment paired with meaningful lifestyle changes.

Lifestyle factors in Alzheimer’s disease treatment

Research is beginning to highlight risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease within our control, such as our lifestyle choices. Exercise, for example, has long been thought important for healthy cognition. In 65BC, Roman statesman and scholar Marcus Tullius Cicero said, “It is exercise alone that supports the spirits, and keeps the mind in vigor.”

Here at Sharlin Health and Neurology, we are taking this declaration and putting it into practice – all backed by cutting-edge technology, extensive experience, and industry best-practice. We have enlisted leading dieticians and neuro-fitness experts to deliver unparalleled health coaching that is really, truly changing people’s lives.

We provide that sense of support and nurturing people need to reclaim control of their health; from there, we journey with them on their path to wellness. From experience, I cannot overstate the importance of a health coach in the overall treatment process.

Find out what functional medicine can do for you

Drugs like aducanumab are, in many ways, a breakthrough. But they aren’t a fix-all solution, a magic bullet. Instead, they are one piece of the puzzle. A functional medicine approach to your treatment ensures you utilize every tool available to improve your quality of life.

If you’d like to find out what functional medicine can do for you, schedule your free consultation today. We’d be more than happy to discuss your personal challenges and goals.

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