Thursday, January 21, 2010

Dr. Oz: Anti-oxidants, lifestyle changes could prevent or delay most Alzheimer's (ABC GMA today)

Dr. Mehmet Oz, who commonly appears on Oprah, appeared on ABC Good Morning America this morning (Thursday Jan. 21, 2009), talked with George Stephanopoulos on “The Five Warning Signs for Alzheimer’s,” with a news story link by Kate McCarthy /here.

He gave some differential examples. Forgetting where you put your car keys when you were preoccupied is not a warning sign, but putting them in the refrigerator is. He gave Stephanopoulos a memory test of 8 items.

He compared Alzheimer’s to having sap on transmission power lines in the brain. But he came across very strongly with the message that lifestyle changes could prevent the disease in maybe 75% of potential victims. Type II diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, and similar or resulting circulatory system disease certainly can affect brain “performance” with aging. Besides preventing atherosclerosis and strokes, which will would help preserve memory people without family histories of dementia, even people with known genetic predispositions to plaque formation may avoid most symptoms for years or even decades with certain dietary changes. Oz pointed out that people in certain “blue zones” in the Mediterranean have much less Alzheimer’s than people in the US and the rest of Europe, partly because of the consumption of certain plant oils containing antioxidants (Omega-3, curcumin, Vitamins E, B6 and B12) which seem to be protective. India has only 25% of the rate of incidence per age of Alzheimer’s as the US, he said. Other reports about Blue Zones include observations that social and familial cohesion in these communities is strong, which may also help explain much better cognitive health.

This observation on lifestyle and nutrition, if it holds up, would have implications. First, the various herbs and oils could be studied to make more anti-memory loss drugs for treatment. But the bigger impact is the prospect of prevention as medicine extends lives by preventing deaths from other causes like heart attacks and cancers. This finding would be particularly important because of the grim predictions for staggering increase in Alzheimer’s in the coming years, with enormous costs for society, both for publicly funded care and especially for adult children, who in many states can be held legally responsible for their long term care because of filial responsibility laws. Prevention of most occurrence of this disabling disease with lifestyle changes (while otherwise extending lifespans with medical treatments), if possible, starts to become a moral imperative because of the potential impact on others. We’ve seen this kind of thinking about prevention in our health “morality” debate before, back in the 1980s, with HIV. Conservative columnist George Will, particularly, talks about “behaviorally based disease” in conjunction with the health insurance debate. This is not something people like to face, but the debate is inevitably coming down the pike for all of us.

By the way, I do find a lot of criticism of pundits like Will, linking morality to illness, out there. Try this piece in Psychology Today, by Peter Stromberg, Aug. 12, 2009, link here. He writes “From my perspective, this debate is never going to get past the shouting stage until we recognize that some of our ethical concepts-in particular the way we think about intentional behavior and responsibility-have not kept up with the research on why people act the way they do. Morally, we are stuck in the Middle Ages, with assumptions like "except for reflexes, people's actions are intentional and voluntary." And you can check out Wendell Potter’s article on (Center for Media and Democracy) PR Watch, July 3, 2009, “Why do we need health care reform: don’t ask George Will”, link here.

Dr. Oz has more information on his own website here.

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