Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A-Betas: the New Trans Fat

I learned a new term last night--amyloid-beta proteins--and it's sure to become a household word like trans fatty acids.

These A-beta proteins are the sticky stuff that make up the famous plaques deposited in brains of persons who show symptoms of Alzheimer's disease.

On last night's HBO special "Momentum in Science," doctors described A-Beta deposits as "dirt" or "splinters" in the brain, causing inflammation in which microglia (another new term for me) eat up the A-beta but also kill brain cells.

A researcher showed two very dramatic before-and-after slides of twenty-some neurons with many connections and then (after adding microglia) just a few neurons with almost no connections.

That was enough for me--I'm going to try to reduce the A-beta protein in my brain.

It turns out that insulin resistance and glucose levels are related to how much A-beta is present in one's brain and spinal fluid at any time.

"Insulin levels sky rocket," they said, after eating foods high in saturated fat and simple sugars. "They remain elevated for a long time... and cause increased beta amyloid in the spinal fluid."

So I'm converted: no more egg mcmuffins with orange juice (does juice have simple sugars?) when traveling.

The other segments of "The Alzheimer's Project" are about patients, families, and caregivers--useful if you aren't already involved in dementia care.

But I recommend that everyone watch the two-part series on the science of Alzheimer's Disease (AD). You can see it by streaming from the website hbo.com/alzheimers... if you can spell it. It will also be repeated several times this week, or you can buy the DVD.

Another tidbit: aerobic exercise for 30 minutes dramatically increases insulin resistance for 24 hours. Those nasty splinters aren't deposited.

Looks like my sporadic beach jogging needs to become daily.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Alzheimer's on HBO

The TV gods have decreed that this is your week to learn about Alzheimer's.

HBO is airing a three-part series on the illness accompanied by a two-part supplementary series "Momentum in Science," which includes 15 sections on various aspects of the causes and possible preventive measures for Alzheimer's.

See http://www.hbo.com/alzheimers/index.html. (You can click on the title above "Alzheimer's on HBO" to get to the website.)

Tonight on the west coast, the shows begin at 7:30 pm and 8 pm. They are repeated all week and also available through HBO On Demand and by streaming from the above website.

I missed the last big documentary, Addiction, because we didn't have HBO, so I bought the DVD edition. But now we have not only not killed our television but subscribed to an even greater selection of cable channels, including HBO.

None of last night's first section, "The Memory Loss Tapes," was new to me, as a veteran of four years' visits to the dementia floor of an assisted living residence.

It was moving, nonetheless, especially the woman tormented by the hallucination of a snake on her wheelchair (as my mother saw worms coming out of the fire sprinkler on her ceiling).

She also talks to her "neighbor" in the mirror and wonders why she is so silent and won't ever come to her room to visit.

I was surprised that HBO filmed and aired the actual death of one gentleman, after showing video and photos of his entire life. It was a gentle death, much like my mother's, but surprising on television nonetheless, followed by his funeral complete with open-casket viewing.

If Alzheimer's or another dementia runs in your family, this is an easy way to learn more about it.