CAN YOGA REDUCE THE INCIDENCE OF ALZHEIMER'S DISEASE? PART 1

brain image

There has been much research conducted on what Alzheimer’s Disease is, how to treat it and what coping strategies to put into place when living with it after diagnosis.  All of this has been essential to the understanding of this incurable disease. 

Research has shown that memory, language, thinking and judgement impairment aka Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) can start at least 20 years or more prior to an Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis and can affect 20% of the population.  Further research has found that the average age for an Alzheimer’s diagnosis is 65 years old with the risk then doubling every five years.1

There's evidence that signs of dementia start more than two decades before the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s and every time a new piece of research is published we are reminded that Alzheimer’s Disease is not a 'normal' part of the aging process.    

I therefore believe that the implementation of preventative measures from early adulthood (25-65 years old) would be a logical step on the path to slowing the progression or halting this disease.  This causes me to ask the question:-

“How can yoga help with reducing the incidence of Alzheimer’s disease if practiced in early adulthood (25-65 years old)?”

About Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s disease was named after Alois Alzheimer, the doctor who first described it and is defined as a physical disease that affects the brain.  Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia and accounts for 60 to 80 percent of dementia cases with more than half a million people in the UK living with it.  It can start with memory loss and in its final stages end with no awareness of the body at all or its needs.2   

It is a progressive disease meaning that as time goes on more and more parts of the brain are damaged where proteins build up in the brain, forming plaques or tangles. This interferes with the communications between nerve cells resulting in their death and the loss of brain tissue.3 

The area of the brain that forms new memories and is key to our day to day processing is called the hippocampus and this is the area that is primarily affected in Alzheimer’s disease.  One of the first signs of the condition’s development is memory lapses.4

Over the last 30 years, research has made wonderful progress in understanding Alzheimer’s disease and what causes it.  Current treatments however cannot cure or decelerate it, they can only reduce the symptoms.

The symptoms of Alzheimer’s are memory loss, inability to learn, reasoning, making judgements, communicating, carrying out every day tasks/activities and later in its development anxiety, suspicion, delusions or agitation. 

Future research is under way that will focus on the three hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease: beta-amyloid - the chief component of the plaques; tau protein - the chief component of the tangles and inflammation - present due to the immune system, the body’s natural defence mechanism protecting and clearing away unwanted bodies from the brain.5

There’s also research based on the brain becoming insulin resistant during Alzheimer’s disease and it’s still unclear why this happens.  Some researchers believe that it’s due to beta amyloid decreasing the body’s ability to use insulin whereas others have found reduced amounts of insulin present in the brain.  The reason is still unknown.6

So how can yoga positively contribute towards this incessant research and become a major player in the fight to reduce the incidence of Alzheimer’s?

Yoga and Alzheimer’s Disease

In the film Terminator 2, Judgement Day starring Arnold Schwarzeneggar, time travel allowed the characters to go back in time to the point where Miles Dyson, genius scientist and creator of Skynet, the global US defence computer network, conceives the idea of Skynet.  This is way before the intelligence system turns on itself and sees humans as a threat thus annihilating most of human kind. Coincidentally, this is in fact very similar to the way the human body in dysfunction fights itself causing autoimmune diseases.

The point here is that in Terminator 2, Judgement Day there was the opportunity to prevent a disastrous future from happening before it began by making change before it happened.

It is my opinion that this is how yoga’s intervention and contribution towards the battle against Alzheimer’s could make an impact.  By ensuring that there is limited opportunity for risk factors to occur and by making a conscious health impact on a person’s mind and body between the ages 25 - 65 years old, yoga could potentially reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease in the future.

With the practice of yoga, we can strengthen our mind with meditation, ward off illness using breathing exercises in pranayama, experience conscious sleep with Yoga Nidra for deep relaxation, master the body and enhance its functions with asana practice and bring complete awareness, clarity, acceptance and steadiness into our entire being.

Recent research on yoga and Alzheimer’s has found that meditating twice a day and practicing asana may reverse memory loss.7

This is the power of yoga and in my next blog, I'll explore yoga practises that have been proven to strengthen the mind, increase focus and concentration plus reduce the incidence of depression, diabetes Type 2 and stress - all precursors to Alzheimer's Disease.

References