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Herbs: Nature's Multitaskers

Multitaskers: No, I'm not talking about ER nurses and doctors (and I used to be one of those, so I know), nor about computer geeks or people who work in busy, modern offices; nor about busy parents with professional responsibilities. No, I am talking here about herbs, which most of us take every day in our foods (and sometimes in our supplements), and don't even know it.

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 There is a word that keeps coming to mind that describes    what any of us with a chronic illness can go through:  metamorphosis. This word reminds me of the three stages   that occur as a  1) caterpillar, transforms into a 2)  chrysalis, and then 3) a  beautiful butterfly.  Metamorphosis is a good description of what many of us are being asked to go through as part of healing through our illnesses.

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Alzheimer's and Dementia

Many of us, on  hearing these words, for the most part ignore them, thinking that they may or may not happen when we age--or, we don't really want to deal with what these words mean to us. We more commonly assume that what we have to fear is cancer and heart disease, yet, as a recent article suggested, "The Costs for Dementia Care Far Exceeding Other Diseases, Study Finds." (NY Times, October 26, 2015). The article goes on to state: "Three diseases, leading killers of Americans, often involve long periods of decline before death. Two of them--heart disease and cancer--usually require expensive drugs, surgeries and hospitalizations. The third, dementia, has no effective treatments to slow its course."


Dementia, a loss of brain function, can occur with a variety of diseases. One of these includes Alzheimer's disease, which affects memory, thinking and behavior and gradually gets worse as the disease progresses. It is believed that you are more likely to get Alzheimer's disease if you are older, have a close blood relative with the disease, have a history of head trauma, chronic high blood pressure, or have a genetic predisposition. Women tend to be at higher risk. One of the key characteristics of the aging process is decreased oxygen utilization. In the discussion about the brain, this means lower brain function, and then dementia. 

There are two types of Alzheimer's disease. The first is called "early onset", where symptoms become evident before the age of sixty. There have been several genes that have been identified with early onset and as expected this tends to run in families. The second and most common type is called "late onset", occurring in people older than sixty. In both types, genes and environmental factors seem to play a role. 

Of the 5.3 million people in the US who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer's, over half a million have early-onset Alzheimer's. Another 590,000 people age 55 to 64 have mild cognitive impairment, which is a precursor to Alzheimer's.

No matter when it's diagnosed, Alzheimer's destroys the brain and leads to the same symptoms: memory loss, poor judgment, confusion, disorientation, agitation, and ultimately the loss of the ability to speak or take care of oneself. Alzheimer's is second only to cancer as American's greatest health fear. This fear is well deserved. Alzheimer's is a frightening disease characterized by failing memory, erratic behaviors and loss of bodily functions. It slowly takes away a person's identity and their ability to think, eat, talk, and walk.

There is no cure known by modern medicine, in spite of whatever pharmaceutical TV ads you may see. Medical doctors don't have a clue how to stop or even prevent this destructive disease, primarily because their focus is often too mechanistic and materialistic. They aren't even sure what causes brain damage. 

The fundamental problem associated with Alzheimer's disease is the inability of the brain to effectively utilize glucose, or blood sugar, to produce energy. This defect in energy conversion starves the brain cells and weakens their ability to withstand stress. Under these cumulative stresses, the brain ages and degenerates into dementia.

The other fundamental underlying causes, such as chronic infections like Herpes and Lyme, as well as chronic heavy metal toxicity like that of mercury, are rarely if ever addressed in modern medicine. 

As we age, our bodies change the way we produce energy, from healthy fat metabolism, to sugar or glucose metabolism. As a result of this shift, we produce more lactic acid, resulting in inflammation in the brain and in many tissues of our bodies. 

Symptoms of Dementia and Alzheimer's

There are some typical symptoms to watch for, including language confusion, memory loss, difficulty with cognitive skills, or changes in emotions and behaviors. Many people have mild cognitive issues, including forgetfulness, due to aging. This does not always progress into Alzheimer's. Mild cognitive impairment can include problem-solving difficulties, inability to multi-task, and forgetting words, conversations, or events. Alzheimer's presents more challenging issues such as misplacing things, personality changes, getting lost in familiar settings, mood changes, difficulty recalling the names of familiar objects, or finding it challenging to accomplish tasks that used to be easy. As the disease progresses, the individual may experience hallucinations, violent behavior, forgetting current events, poor judgement, depression, wakefulness at night, confusion in communication, or forgetting one's life history. Once the disease is to a severe stage, family members are not recognized, and it becomes very difficult to perform basic activities in daily life.

Diagnosis and Treatment

In modern medicine, there are various tests used by the practitioner to diagnose Alzheimer's disease. The patient will complete a physical exam, take a medical history questionnaire, including symptoms, and take a mental status exam. Other test may be run to rule out anemia, vitamin deficiency, stroke, depression, brain tumor, or thyroid disease. In reality, the only way to positively diagnose Alzheimer's disease is to assess a brain tissue sample after death, looking for neurofibrilary tangles, neuritic plaques, or senile plaques.

Alzhemer's Disease is a complex process. Unfortunately, we are today bombarded with deceptive pharmaceutical ads for drugs to treat this condition, and many of these drugs are expensive and do not significantly alter the course of the illness. There are pharmaceutical approaches for the treatment of Alzheimer's disease which will not cure, but try to slow the progression of the disease and manage the symptoms. The benefit of these drugs is usually small. 

What You Can Do 

What can you do to help prevent this condition from developing in your life or that of a parent as we age? And if a loved one or someone you know has early signs of this condition, what can you suggest?

Diet and food is first and foremost, especially anti-inflammatory and non-gluten foods, and healthy fats such as those in high-quality coconut, olive, and fish oils, are critical to healthy brain function. Many people today know about the positive effects of coconut oil in brain function. Higher intake of fruits, vegetables, ( preferably organic), and omega-3-rich fish (preferably not farm raised), protect against oxidative damage, thus lowering the risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and the occurrence of AD, or Alzheimers disease. Fruits and vegetables have a protective effect against neurotoxins, and their consumption is associated with a reduced risk of AD.

There are supplements that are believed to be helpful to prevent the onset or slow the progression of Alzheimer's, including folate, vitamin B12, vitamin E, and phosphatidylserine (a central component of neuronal membranes which is an essential nutrient for brain function. This phospholipid promotes membrane fluidity and encourages healthy glucose metabolism by the brain. Research suggests that it has the ability to enhance memory and learning, as well as general mental acuity). 

There are also many botanicals (herbs): bacopa, gotu kola (highly revered in Ayurvedic medicine as a brain tonic to protect and enhance memory, and also supports healthy central nervous system function), chinese salvia (a valued herb in Traditional Chinese Medicine, used to nourish blood and promote blood circulation), ginkgo (used for thousands of years, ginkgo is known for its ability to enhance memory and focus. Gingko promotes healthy blood flow and oxygenation in the brain while neutralizing free radicals through its antioxidant activity). 

Vinpocetine, a semisynthetic derivative alkaloid from the periwinkle plant (Vinca minor), helps to enhance cerebral blood flow and encourage a healthy inflammatory response function within the brain. Vinpocetine also provides antioxidant activity and neuro-protective effects. Huperzine A: Huperzine A is extracted from club moss (Huperzia serrata). Huperzia has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for various blood disorders. Modern research is focusing on the ability of Huperzine A to enhance memory and support healthy neurological function.

I personally take, and often prescribe, a product called Vibrant Mind by Natura Health Products, that contains high-quality sources of the aforementioned herbs and nutrients, to protect brain neuron function and brain circulation. (Disclaimer: I have no financial connections with this company).  I also personally take and often prescribe detoxification formulas for heavy metals (common in the brain and nervous system). along with adaptogenic herbs such as siberian ginseng (eleuthero), schisandra, rhodiola, ashwaganda, (ashwagandha is revered in Ayurvedic medicine for its remarkable ability to promote mental and physical vitality and stamina), cordyceps and reishi (these mushrooms are both highly regarded in Chinese medicine to nourish the kidney energy system and support adrenal function. Both reishi and cordyceps also help to protect the body when it is subject to environmental challenges), green tea, and turmeric (green tea extract and turmeric work together synergistically. Both of these valued traditional herbs help maintain and support healthy cellular function while providing protection against environmental stressors.)

These herbs work best when taken together in concert, rather than separately. It is best to take them as a family, together in one formula. There are certain formulas called Vital Adapt or Power Adapt, as well as the Vibrant Mind, that are well-composed formulas from reputable companies, available in our Medicinary or online. In ordering online, it's important to know what company makes and uses the highest quality components.  

Other Treatments

There are other treatments that can be and often are of help to people with cognitive dysfunctions, or early dementia or Alzhemers. One of these is ozone therapies. These can be taken intravenously by removing blood from your veins and adding a certain strength of medical grade ozone, then administering your own blood back to you at the same time. The ozone treatments can also be administered rectally, at home or during a colon hydrotherapy session with Newton, our colon hydrotherapist at the clinic.

These treatments can be arranged through our clinic. It is my professional view that these therapies ought to be part of foundational programs for all of us as we age. The ozone therapies also address the underlying chronic infections often present in the brain, such as Herpes and Lyme, as well as other viruses. 

Social and Economic Costs and What We Can Do

On average, the out-of-pocket cost for a patient with dementia is $61,522 --more than 80 percent higher than the cost for someone with heart disease or cancer. The reason is that dementia patients need caregivers to watch them, help with basic activities like eating, dressing and bathing, and provide constant supervision to make sure they do not wander off or harm themselves. None of those costs are covered by Medicare.

For many families, the cost of caring for a dementia patient often "consumed almost their entire household wealth," said Dr. Amy S. Kelley, a geriatrician at Icahn School of Medicine at Mt. Sinai in New York and the lead author of the paper published on Monday in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Dr. Diane E. Meier, a professor of geriatrics and palliative care at Mount Sinai Hospital, said most families are unprepared for the financial burden of dementia, assuming Medicare will pick up most costs. "What patients and their families don't realize is that they are on their own," Dr. Meier said.

Everything gets complicated when a person has dementia, noted Dr. Christine K. Cassel, a geriatrician and chief executive of the National Quality Forum. She described a familiar situation: If a dementia patient in a nursing home gets a fever, the staff members say, "I can't handle it" and call 911, she said. The patient lands in the hospital. There, patients with dementia tend to have complications--they get delirious and confused, fall out of bed and break a bone, or they choke on their food. Medical costs soar.

Until and unless we restructure how we do health care, and find ways to make these often effective therapies available to many people who need them, things will likely get worse, with more unnecessary stress on all of us. At this point in our individual and collective human development, almost all of the therapies mentioned here are out of pocket for all of us. Many people cannot sustain this for long, as we have seen in cancer care.  

The problem today is that we live in a pharmaceutically-driven medical system that controls what is considered medically "proven" and what is not. And the state medical boards go along with this system, which is largely financially driven, and banning so-called "unproven therapies" from being reimbursed. This is the likely reality for the foreseeable future, so we all need to collaborate in working within this reality.

It is therefore incumbent upon each of us to take the personal responsibility to prevent and treat such brain conditions, as well as to share this information with as many people as possible, and to work together to create a more equitable health care system that includes all of these therapies that have good outcomes based studies published. 

These conditions are not inevitable for all of us as we age, if we work together to support each other.


I trust this newsletter edition is not an information overload for you. We will be doing classes here in the future on this very topic. We all need to be prepared and to grow in our awareness and consciousness about these "death in life" illness known as Alzheimer's disease and Dementia. These conditions cut to the core of what it means to be a human being. 

In the end, it is all about how we love and take care of each other. I feel this truth in our work here with patients with cancer, as well as those with chronic pain and other chronic conditions. 

Robert Zieve,, M.D. 


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