Sniffing out Alzheimer’s disease

by | Nov 12, 2023 | healthy ageing, mind and mood

Scientists have discovered that one of the earliest symptoms related to the development of Alzheimer’s disease is a problem with the sense of smell.

The number of people with Alzheimer’s disease, the most common cause of dementia, is increasing rapidly. It is one of the most dreaded of diseases and yet modern medicine seems capable of only slowing progression not reversing it.

With the sheer numbers of cases we are likely to see as worldwide life expectancy rises, this disease is a tragedy in the making. With a huge potential burden both personally and globally.

Yet scientists believe that there are many opportunities to prevent or reverse Alzheimers disease. Especially when we understand that the course of disease progression in Alzheimer’s disease occurs over decades before the diagnosis.

Many studies report that reduced ability to smell, and even the complete loss of ability to smell odours is a part of ageing. The areas of the brain that are responsible for the recognition of smells are very close to the hippocampus in the brain. The hippocampus is the primary site where scientists believe Alzheimer’s disease begins. This proximity may mean that changes in the hippocampus may impact on the olfactory area of the brain that is responsible for detection and recognition of smells. In fact a meta-analysis found that the sense of smell declined as people in the trial progressed from mild cognitive impairment to a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease, suggesting the possibility of using the sense of smell to identify Alzheimer’s disease even before the decline in memory.

Whilst many people might not want to know if they are at risk for, or progressing towards dementia. If a deterioration in our sense of smell is the earliest known symptom that we might be at risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease, at least knowing this gives us the chance to potentially slow further progression of this deadly disease.

Since Alzheimer’s disease is a complex disease, that can have different causes and effects on people, there can be many different prevention strategies. One strategy might be to explore the use of traditional herbal remedies that were used to promote longevity. Since longevity implies long life without physical or mental impairment, this might be a worthy option.

In fact scientists are already looking at the potential of herbal medicine in preventing Alzheimer’s disease. This study suggests that Panax ginseng improves cognitive function and other markers of Alzheimer’s disease.

Panax ginseng is a well known herbal medicine that has been widely used in the Far East for thousands of years. As a general tonic it was said to boost energy, improve mood and promote longevity. Usually known simply as ginseng, this herbal remedy is said to increase resistance to infections and the ability to withstand stresses. As an adaptogen herb this remedy has a wide range of beneficial effects and few side effects.

In this study patients with Alzheimer’s disease received 4.5g per day of Panax ginseng, for 12 weeks. This study found that Panax ginseng was able to show improvements in cognitive performance during this period.

While another study used either 4.5g per day, 9g per day, or no ginseng for Alzheimer’s patients, again the trial lasted 12 weeks. Again, this trial showed that ginseng was able to improve cognitive performance in Alzheimer’s patients.

However, Panax ginseng is known to interact with certain medications and so may not be suitable for everyone. On the other hand there are several other herbal medicines that have been studied in relation to Alzheimers disease that have shown benefits. In fact traditional systems of medicine abound with tonic herbal remedies that promote health, enhance memory, intellect and quality of life.

It’s never too early to start addressing your risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Contact a medical herbalist to find out how herbal remedies can help prevent your cognitive decline.

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