Preventing Alzheimer’s: Sleep, Nutrition, and Amyloid Beta Clearance

August 18, 2017 | Linda J. Dobberstein, Chiropractor, Board Certified in Clinical Nutrition

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Preventing Alzheimer’s: Sleep, Nutrition, and Amyloid Beta Clearance

A hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease is the accumulation of amyloid beta protein in the brain. A major focus on Alzheimer’s disease research pertains to the clearance of amyloid-beta protein in attempts to prevent or manage the disease. Harmful buildup of amyloid-beta protein in the brain is estimated to occur as early as 20 years before the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease occur. Researchers have been working to find drugs for amyloid-beta clearance, with no solutions. Strategies that support the natural removal process of amyloid beta and inflammation management may be our best hope for prevention of Alzheimer’s disease.  

Amyloid beta protein removal occurs within the brain and body through very complex processes. Key mechanisms for amyloid beta clearance involves breaking it down within the brain or crossing the blood brain barrier and dumping it into the peripheral blood and lymphatic system. This involves several proteolytic enzyme systems, activated microglial cells, the glymphatic system, immune cells and other systems to perform this daily maneuver.

Sleep and Glymphatics

One key method of clearing amyloid-beta protein is the process of glymphatics. It is a relatively recent, groundbreaking discovery. Glymphatics is a fascinating process that occurs in the brain and spinal cord during sleep. It is the cellular clean-up process that helps clear trash from the previous day’s wear-and-tear.

The glymphatic system is a pathway of glial cells and lymphatics in the brain and spinal cord that clears used and damaged proteins and metabolites like amyloid-beta. Waste products are dumped into the peripheral lymphatic system for management or they reenter circulation within the brain and are tucked away. Most glymphatic activity occurs during sleep. During sleep, twice the amount of amyloid beta is removed than when awake. You can find out more about glymphatics in the article Sleep: Molecular Clean Up Time for the Brain.

Chronic sleep restriction, i.e. deficits or lack of adequate sleep, is considered a significant problem for many. Adults need at least 7 hours of sleep per night. Children and teenagers need more. Sleep disorders increase the risk of Alzheimer’s, but now add chronic insufficient sleep to the issues. In the last several months, researchers have hypothesized that chronic sleep restriction increases the vulnerability and prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease. One reason suggested relates to decreased quality glymphatic time to remove amyloid beta and other waste products from the brain. In mice, it was found that glymphatic failure preceded significant amyloid beta deposits and the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.

Related with chronic sleep restriction is less melatonin. Melatonin is a sleep hormone and very powerful antioxidant for the brain. It greatly assists with blocking amyloid-beta protein from stacking up and turning into a tangled mess. Its full benefit is decreased with chronic sleep deficits.

Chronic Sleep Restriction and Mitochondria

Chronic sleep restriction impacts another aspect of brain health that leads to buildup of amyloid beta. Mitochondria, the energy producing organelles in our brain and body, depend on sleep for healthy restoration and energy production. (Related information is discussed in the article Managing Fatigue.)

Animal research confirms that chronic sleep restriction leads to amyloid-beta plaque buildup in the brain mitochondria. Lack of sleep stresses mitochondria which create more oxidative stress and inflammation. More antioxidants are needed to combat the lack of sleep and free radical stress. If not compensated, then more amyloid beta builds up within the mitochondria, creating a detrimental snowball effect.

It is estimated that about one-third of adolescents and adults in developed countries experience sleep deficits and use the weekend to catch up on lost sleep. A weekend of catch-up sleep is often thought as adequate to make up for the lack of sleep. A recent study expanded on some of the effects of chronic sleep deficits. Their findings showed that chronic sleep loss can have “profound effects on brain health and function, including neuronal survival”.

Sleep deprivation was found to cause significant mitochondrial metabolic, inflammatory stress, and injury to many types of nerve cells. If sleep loss occurred during critical times of growth and development, the harmful effects persisted into adulthood. Weekend catch up sleep was not able to offset all of the negative stress.

Alzheimer’s and amyloid beta deposits may be thought of as disease of the elderly. Clearing of the amyloid-beta waste products, however, is necessary at every age. A recent clinical trial of healthy volunteers between 24 and 31 years of age evaluated the clearance of amyloid beta in a trial of short-term sleep deprivation.

Participants went 24 hours without sleep. Blood levels of amyloid-beta and other compounds related to the clearance of amyloid-beta were found affected by only one night of missed sleep. There was an increase of 32.6% of amyloid-beta compound AB40 in the bloodstream with a 19.3% decrease of the ability to clear the waste products. Sleep deprivation caused increased oxidative stress and impaired clearance of the waste products in the body.

Enzyme Systems that Clear Amyloid Beta Need Nutrients

Several enzymes systems have been identified in removal of amyloid-beta in the brain and body. A curious finding is that many of the enzymes are zinc dependent. The enzymes are attached to zinc. Thus without adequate zinc, the enzyme system’s ability to do its clean-up job is compromised or stopped. Of the nine enzymes identified as amyloid-beta degrading enzymes in Alzheimer’s disease, seven of them are zinc dependent. The other enzymes depend on cysteine and aspartic acid.

Zinc deficiency has been implicated in the development of neurodegenerative disorders including Alzheimer’s disease for more than 30 years. One sign of a zinc deficiency is a loss of the sense of smell. Loss of smell precedes the onset of Alzheimer’s disease and is considered a quick screening tool for zinc deficiency. Zinc deficiency reaches much farther than loss of smell. Without adequate zinc, the enzymes that clear amyloid-beta protein accumulation struggle to perform their task. Zinc also affects numerous functions in the brain involving detoxification, neurotransmitters, metabolism, mitochondria and more.

Amyloid Beta Clearance – Skin, Liver, Kidneys, GI Tract

Through a series of measurements, scientists have found that amyloid beta protein in the bloodstream (outside of the brain) is cleared when it goes through the capillary beds of organs and tissues. The skin, liver, gastrointestinal tract, and kidneys provided the majority of amyloid beta removal. Scientists are still learning how this occurs within humans.

However, this research suggests that chronic distress in these areas dampens the removal the amyloid beta protein in the body. This was demonstrated by findings that showed moderate kidney impairment was associated with a higher likelihood of dementia. Another finding showed higher amounts of amyloid beta in the blood of renal failure patients than those with healthy kidney function.

The skin, liver, GI tract and kidneys (and lungs too) are organs associated with detoxification. The logical thought is that the more stressed these tissues become with daily bodily burdens and inflammation, the less effective they become with amyloid beta toxins dumped from the brain.

Nutrients Help Amyloid Beta Clearance

Clearance of amyloid beta also involves several immune cells in the brain and body. Various immune cells like macrophages and monocytes function like trash collectors that eat up garbage and cellular debris such as amyloid beta in the body and brain. Research suggests support of these immune cells can help prevent amyloid-beta buildup and other neurodegenerative effects. One compound cited for this benefit was curcumin.   

Another nutrient helpful for macrophage and immune cell clearance of amyloid beta is the omega-3 oil DHA. Research published June 2017 in patients with Alzheimer’s disease and mild cognitive impairment show positive effects with DHA supplementation. Immune cells, like macrophages and others, demonstrated improved clearance of amyloid beta with DHA intake. Less protein tangles occurred within the brain. DHA helped defend genes that protect cells from inflammatory debris. Cognitive skills improved or stabilized in these patients with early Alzheimer’s disease.

Two other nutrients, arabinogalactan and alkylglycerols, are helpful for immune system macrophages and clearance of trash. We have used arabinogalactan for about 25 years for all kinds of immune system concerns and helping with lymphatic trash removal. Research shows the benefit of various arabinogalactan compounds for amyloid beta clearance.

Alkylglycerols are widely used for immune disorders and various cancers to help improve macrophage activity. However, no research exists to my knowledge on alkylglycerols effect on macrophages and Alzheimer’s disease. Alkylglycerols and shark liver oil are often linked with the saying “sharks don’t get cancer”. Is it possibly said that “sharks don’t get Alzheimer’s disease”?

The Latest Research on Amyloid-Beta Clearance & Nutrition

A great deal of research is looking at other ways of improving amyloid-beta removal within the brain and body. Here are some additional positive findings.

The nutrient ashwagandha holds considerable promise for amyloid-beta removal. A recent animal study showed that ashwagandha helped the liver break down amyloid beta found in the body, which also significantly reduced amyloid-beta protein levels in the brain.

Adequate vitamin D shows a strong correlation with removal of amyloid beta and is being considered as treatment. Vitamin D is needed for removal of amyloid beta. Individuals with the vitamin D receptor (VDR) gene defect are potentially at a higher risk for Alzheimer’s disease. VDR genes are identified in commercial gene or ancestry tests. Get your vitamin D levels measured at least once per year. Ideal vitamin D levels are 50-80.

Selenium attached to the amino acid methionine, or selenomethionine, is powerful support against amyloid beta. Selenomethionine provides vital antioxidant function, reduces amyloid-beta deposits and helps with the removal or autophagy tissue cleanup process.

The antioxidant, carnosine, inhibits excess amyloid beta formation. Animal studies show it highly effective at blocking buildup of amyloid beta in mice that are bred to develop Alzheimer’s disease. It also provides other benefits for mitochondria protection and nerves especially from the ravages of high blood sugar.

Fat soluble vitamins, vitamins A, E, and K in addition to vitamin D, affect the enzyme systems that manage the buildup of amyloid beta. This brings the immediate question to mind related to the prescription drug Coumadin. Millions of individuals are prescribed this drug that interferes with vitamin K, but Vitamin K (K1 and K2) are essential for numerous functions in the body. Is Coumadin use preventing vitamin K from doing its job in clearing amyloid beta? Is its use contributing the burgeoning number of Alzheimer’s disease patients?

Exercise is found to help promote glymphatic clearance and reduce the buildup of amyloid-beta in animals. Certainly, exercise has been found to be beneficial for mental health, mitochondria, BDNF and numerous other disorders. This is yet another reason to get out and exercise.

Take Steps Today to Protect Your Brain

Nutrients, sleep, and exercise provide evidence of great possibility of managing the toxic effects of amyloid and healthy brain aging. Amyloid beta starts to adversely accumulate 20 years before Alzheimer’s disease is diagnosed. No matter what age you are, family risk history, and genes, there are clearly essential actions to prevent and manage daily wear-and-tear and troublesome amyloid beta buildup. It may seem so basic and mundane, but it is so profound.

Sleep, exercise and movement, learning new things, lymphatic function, detoxification, and nutritional status of zinc, selenium, vitamins A, D, E, and K, and many others are critical for brain health. Car owners know that the oil and fluids of the car need to be changed regularly in order to maintain function and optimal performance of their vehicles. Are you on a healthy, regular schedule with your brain and body’s ongoing maintenance?

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