came across Dr. Dale Bredesen in November 2016, when he was invited to appear
on the Today program. Now, he has published
a book of close to 300 pages, in which he claims that he has found the key to not
just stop Alzheimer’s, but reverse its damage. For many people in the field,
this might sound like science fiction. But, after all, solving Alzheimer’s disease
has become the holy grail of the early 21st century. It’s not just the terrible
toll inflicted on the victims. Family members are often drafted into being “volunteer
caregivers,” which can put pressure on the whole family.
The book opens with the fact that
even the gods of the biotechnology world rarely make a splash, and when they
do, failure is almost foreordained. This was the case in 2018, when Biogen
almost overnight raised the hopes of people with dementia to think that
Alzheimer’s might be domesticated—the way AIDS became a manageable disease
after Magic Johnson showed the world that the HIV virus could be just another manageable
But here is a downbeat message that we might be hearing
for decades: The human brain is too complex to be “fixed” by mortals. My understanding
is that only the most recently diagnosed would benefit, should a breakthrough drug
arise, not people already into the middle phase of Alzheimer’s, like me. That
was my takeaway. Am I fatalistic? Not really. But I am realistic. The failure
of Biogen’s compound set me back, and I started to direct myself to focus on
the time I have left—the original purpose of my blog.
But as Bredesen puts it, “Alzheimer’s disease has become
part of the Zeitgeist.” I rarely go a full day without seeing or hearing about the
topic, whether online or in print or on the radio or in a podcast. Bredesen is ambitious.
A key insight of his is that Alzheimer’s is not a unified disease, but three distinct
pathologies. “Each one requires a different treatment. Treating them all the
same way is as naïve as treating all infections as the same.”
Bredesen introduces “Kristin,” who at the time was
considering suicide. Her mother had died from the disease after 18 years of
decline, “And at the end Kristin had suffered alone, for her mother was no
longer sentient.” At 65, Kristin started to show the telltale signs of
Alzheimer’s herself. Common symptoms arose: “Unable to remember numbers, she
had to write down even four digits, not to mention phone numbers.” She began to
get lost in what previously was common terrain. According to Kristen, she
confided to a family member, “Did you know I had Alzheimer’s disease?” The
family member answered, “Of course, it was obvious. I just did not want to say
anything to you about it.” Reluctantly, she retired. For Bredesen, the next sentence
is crucial: “Alzheimer’s disease does not
arise from the brain failing to function as it evolved to” [author’s italics]. And “Kristen was
Patient Zero,” according to Bredesen.
Since 2016, Bredesen has been illuminating his main point.
Chapter 3 is titled, “How Does It Feel to Come Back from Dementia?” Confident?
Most important, it doesn’t tell you what Alzheimer’s disease actually is.
Chapter 4 provides a primer for the Bredesen program. And
this is where I have a qualm. Not a big one. More of an inconvenience. From
early on, and even before my diagnosis, I was following the Mediterranean Diet.
After I was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s, I was gladdened to learn
that the Mediterranean Diet was for real. After I left my job, I began to dose
myself daily. That was well more than three years ago. But the two approaches
to diet are almost opposites. Let’s just say that I am playing on someone else’s
Bredesen’s program, called ReCODE, is a three-part
approach that is supposed to fight “the three neurothreats (inflammation,
shortage of brain-supporting molecules, or exposure to toxic substances) that
the brain responds to with what we now know as Alzheimer’s.” The first part is a
diet to fight inflammation by avoiding trans-fats, sugar, and gluten. The
second part of the approach is using exercise, hormones (“such as oestradiol
and testosterone”), and vitamin D and folate to increase “brain-derived
neurotrophic factor (BDNF).” Finally, he says to “eliminate toxins” as “an
effective way to reduce toxic induction of amyloid.” This last approach
requires identifying your exposure to toxins, removing their source, “and then
detoxification that includes ... detoxifying food such as cruciferous
vegetables, pure-water hydration, sauna-based removal of a specific class of
toxins, and increasing critical molecules such as glutathione.”
So what are my options?
Be stubborn? I’d be a fool not
to give the Bredesen approach a chance. But in the weeks and months ahead, I may
be pining for my favorite foods, which include steel-cut oats, soaked overnight,
and then cooked another 10 minutes in the morning. Of course, I would follow
the Bredesen protocol for a trial, assuming that I can get into some kind of trial.
But I will miss my olive oil, and my daily crusty bread as my communion
loaf—assuming that Bredesen’s diet doesn’t pan out. I have doubts. Too many
brilliant minds have met their match in the sticky amyloid in the human brain.