Alzheimer’s, Dementia, & Aging: Are Nootropics the Answer?

Getting older is something that every living organism experiences in life. Aging is described as a reduction in biological function and the decreased ability to fight off death and disease. Our brain is the most important organ in our body and it too can experience its own aging effects.

Fighting old age with new drugs

One can be healthy overall but their brain function can decline leading to possible neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s and Dementia. These common age related diseases are believed to be caused in part by brain aging from oxidative stress.

Alzheimer’s and Dementia – A Rising Problem

Alzheimer’s and Dementia are terrible diseases that are plaguing our community. According to the Alzheimer’s association, one in eight older Americans is living with Alzheimer’s. Alzheimer’s is also the sixth leading cause of death in North America. These statistics are also on the rise and it should be an increasing concern to the population.

The terrible symptoms of Alzheimer’s can take the joy out of the later years in life for both the victim and ones around them. Alzheimer’s Symptoms increase drastically as the victim experiences a downward spiral of cognitive decline. A lot of research has been put into Alzheimer’s prevention and treatment.

Many nootropics have been evaluated to help with this terrible condition although no cure has yet to be found. Certain nootropics have been shown to slow down the progression of Alzheimer’s symptoms. Noopept was investigated as a treatment with positive results and Huperine A has nearly the same mechanism of action as the leading Alzheimer’s drug (donepezil).

Brain Aging and Neurological Decline

Many areas of neurological study are still a mystery. This leaves a big puzzle piece in the causes of certain neurological diseases. Neurological diseases and overall mental decline are believed to be caused primarily by brain aging due to oxidative stress. It is also believed that certain toxins and conditions like heavy metals can speed up brain aging.

So what exactly is brain aging? Brain aging is believed to be caused by oxidative stress. The premise for this theory states that free radicals are produced by the mitochondria due to oxygen being catalyzed within the cells. Free radicals produced in this cellular process have cumulative effects.

They damage the mitochondria where they are produced which leads to further dysfunction by creating less efficient mitochondria. Excessive free radicals in the brain will bind to cells and cause damage to them. It is believed that certain neurotoxic chemicals and heavy metals can enhance this effect and speed up brain aging.

Alzheimer’s and Dementia Nootropic Treatments

Nootropics have been studied very thoroughly. Naturally, the area of Alzheimer’s and nootropics has been of great interest to the medical community. Alzheimer’s and Dementia are thought to be a caused by damages to the cholinergic system. Certain nootropics like the racetams work on the cholinergic system by increasing the efficiency at the Acetylcholine receptors.

These receptors and the function of Acetylcholine are believed to be a cause of Alzheimer’s and overall mental decline. Donepezil, a popular anti-Alzheimer’s drug, works to reduce the chemical that breaks down Acetylcholine.

Huperzine A is an herbal nootropic that works very similarly to Donepezil. Although Huperzine A is an herbal product, it is still very powerful and many herbal treatments have been shown to have similar efficiencies to prescription drugs.

This article in no way promotes the use of self-diagnosing but is simply giving possible options to those who cannot afford the overinflated Alzheimer’s drugs. Huperzine A has been shown to help in the reduction of Alzheimer’s but like all other treatments, cannot be a cure.

Noopept was also evaluated as a nootropics treatment. In the human study, Noopept was shown to help in the reduction of Alzheimer’s symptoms on its own. It is perhaps one of the most promising of the racetam compounds. The study did show a reduction in symptoms and possible repair of the brain however it is likely no cure and may only help to reduce the spread of Alzheimer’s.

Brain Aging – Reduction with Nootropics

Unfortunately, Alzheimer’s and brain aging cannot be reversed at this time but damages can possibly be prevented. The obvious theory is that the reduction of free radicals may reduce the chances of mental decline that leads to Alzheimer’s.

This theory is much like the theory of reducing cancer development by reducing overall free radical levels in a lifetime. Lowering the level of oxidative free radicals in the brain is likely to reduce the chances of mental deterioration. Periodic or lifetime used of nootropic may help.

Certain nootropics have been seen to be effective antioxidants and effective at reducing free radicals. The racetam compounds have been seen to have antioxidants in higher than normal dosages. Other nootropics seem to be more effective at reducing oxidative stress.

Some of the most promising are the herbal compounds, Bacopa Monnieri and Huperzine A. Alpha GPC has also generated some interest.


Delaying Alzheimer’s Symptoms With Nootropics (the Cognitive Reserve Theory)

Hopefully by now you know the risks associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Anyone over the age of 65 has a 1 in 10 chance of suffering symptoms and those over 85 have a 50% chance. Rather than continue to harp on Alzheimer’s, let’s think positivity: how can you prevent yourself from experiencing Alzheimer’s symptoms, even if you do contract the disease?

Studies have shown there is a discrepancy between neurophathological damage being caused by Alzheimer’s disease, and behavioral alterations that manifest as a result of that damage. For example, let’s pretend Patient A and Patient B contract Alzheimer’s at the exact same time.

It is very possible that Patient A will be experiencing serious symptoms in one year while Patient B may go years before experiencing mild symptoms. The theory for this phenomenon is called “The Cognitive Reserve Theory”.

The Goal: Build Our Cognitive Reserves

A cognitive reserve describes the minds resilience to damage on a behavior basis. It doesn’t measure how much damage the brain sustains, rather, it measures how severe the behavioral changes as a result of that damage are. Having a greater number of neurons and synapses directly contributes to having a stronger cognitive reserve.

Building your cognitive reserve will keep your mind sharp even if you contract Alzheimer’s. You will still contract the disease, but your behavior won’t change, and you won’t lose your memories.

Nootropics Can Help

The first nootropic you should consider when trying to build your cognitive reserve is Lion’s Mane Mushroom. Lion’s Mane is a completely natural nootropic which increases levels of the protein neuron growth factor (NGF) in the hippocampus. The NGF protein causes your brain to produce neurons at a faster rate (neurogenesis), and helps protect new neurons. Read our article on Lion’s Mane Mushroom for more information.

The “Racetam” nootropics can also help build your cognitive reserve. Instead of improving neurogenesis, nootropics like Piracetam and Aniracetam improve synaptic plasticity. Synaptic plasticity refers to your brain’s ability to form, destroy, strengthen, and weaken synaptic connections. However, this means “Racetam” nootropics won’t help on their own.

They merely open your brain to positive change. In order to make your brain change for the better, you need to engage in mentally taking activities. Taking Piracetam and watching TV all day might help you remember the characters, but it won’t help build your cognitive reserve. Read more about the most common “Racetam” nootropic, Piracetam.

There Are Other Ways To Build Your Cognitive Reserve

Besides nootropics, both mental and aerobic exercise can strengthen your cognitive reserve. Challenging mental exercise may build new synaptic connections. Aerobic exercise stimulates the protein brain-derived nootropic factor (BDNF). 4 BDNF is similar to NGF and will help you produce neurons faster.

Taking steps to improve your cognitive reserve is good for your mental health, all your cognitive functions, and will keep you sharp as you age. You don’t want to spend your last days not knowing who your family is, who you are, or what is going on in your head.

Additional Resources

  1. Alzheimer’s Statistics: http://www.wellingtonparc.com/FAQ_Alzheimers_Disease.pdf
  2. Katzman R, Terry R, DeTeresa R, Brown T, Davies P, Fuld P, Renbing X, Peck A (1988). Clinical, pathological, and neurochemical changes in dementia: a subgroup with preserved mental status and numerous neocortical plaques. Annals of Neurology. 23(2):138-44.
  3. Bigio EH, Hynan LS, Sontag E, Satumtira S, White CL (2002). Synapse loss is greater in presenile than senile onset Alzheimer disease: implications for the cognitive reserve hypothesis. Neuropathology and Applied Neurobiology. 28(3):218-27
  4. http://www.pnas.org/content/108/7/3017.abstract

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