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5-HTP and Bipolar Disorder

Written by : Posted on March 13, 2014 : No Comments

5-HTP has been clinically proven to help treat depression effectively and with relative haste, but what about bipolar disorder?  According to the National Institute of Mental Health, around 5.7 million Americans over the age of 18 live with bipolar disorder in a given year and the median age of onset is twenty-five.  Bipolar disorder is characterized by cycles of mood changes over the course of weeks, days, and even hours for rapid cycling bipolar disorder with extreme highs called manic episodes and deep depressive lows.

During a manic episode, people have excessive self-esteem and delusions of grandeur and omnipotence, become extremely talkative with disjointed thoughts, flight of thoughts, reduced need for sleep, significantly increased activities like taking on an eighty-hour work week, and poor judgement.  These episodes can be disastrous for people with uncontrolled bipolar disorder and those around them.  Depressive periods are dark lows that share the same symptoms as depression.  The dangerous part that often bipolar disorder is misdiagnosed as depression and medication makes things worse.

To date, not much research has been done on treating bipolar disorder with 5-HTP, although many people who have added 5-HTP to their medication regimen and therapy under the supervision of a physician have had good results.  In fact, taking a 5-HTP supplement in conjunction with Lithium has proven very effective.  However, it is important to NOT STOP taking prescribed medication and attending therapy as 5-HTP on its own is not an effective treatment for bipolar disorder and can even trigger manic episodes from increased serotonin, and it should not be taken with an SSRI such as Wellbutrin or Prozak.  However, according to WebMD, 5-HTP helps to treat anxiety and depression associated with the cycles of bipolar disorder.

Some benefits of using 5-HTP in conjunction with other medications and therapy is that it can be taken only as needed.  There is no need to build up to a therapeutic dose or maintain daily use.  5-HTP is readily available and inexpensive, and improves depressive states in a relaxed way without the patient feeling medicated.  Some patients report that 5-HTP also helps to mellow out the manic parts of the cycle as well.

Another benefit to 5-HTP is it has very few and very rarely reported side effects and is easy and mellow on the system, enacting processes your body naturally does on its own.  Effective treatment includes diet, stress management, exercise, therapy, and other medications and supplements.  Be sure to consult your doctor before adding 5-HTP into your treatment plan and check in as your symptoms change.

5 Herbs and Supplements that May Help Protect against Alzheimer’s Disease

Written by : Posted on February 25, 2014 : No Comments

treat-alzheimers-with-herbsWhile early onset Alzheimer’s Disease is accepted in medical circles to have a high genetic association, there is currently no consensus about whether late-onset Alzheimer’s Disease–which around 50% of all people over the age of 85 in the United States currently suffer from–is genetic, or environmental and lifestyle related.

Generally accepted risk factors for developing Alzheimer’s Disease are all genetic or unchangeable such as age, family history, ApoE genetics, sex, and Down’s Syndrome.  However, generally acknowledged risk factors are linked to environment an lifestyle.  Head injury, hypothyroidism, advanced maternal age, vascular risk factors, and low educational attainment are generally acknowledged while controversial risk factors include history of depression, zinc deficiency, solvent exposure, elevated plasma homocysteine, thiamine deficiency, aluminum exposure and other risk factors that could be regulated and changed with herbal supplements, treatment, and lifestyle and environmental changes.

If the causes are also environmental and lifestyle related, there are herbal supplements and vitamins that may help prevent developing the disease later in life.

treat-alzheimers-with-ashwagandha1. Ashwagandha

There is currently a lot of naturopathic research going on regarding ashwagandha and Alzheimer’s Disease.  Naturopathic doctor, Michele Burklund has conducted award-winning research on treating dementia with this herb.  Ashwagandha has many neuroprotective properties including increasing the length of dendrites in the brain.  It also has adaptogenic properties which help your body adjust to changes in its system better.

2. Nettle Tea

Although it’s still controversial whether aluminum exposure is a cause of Alzheimer’s Disease, there have been many studies that have shown a correlation, and lowering the aluminum levels in your body is a good thing to do anyway.  Nettle tea contains silicon, which binds aluminum and protects against exposure.

3. B12 and B6 Vitamins

High homocysteine levels in the blood plasma could be a risk factor for developing Alzheimer’s Disease.  High homocysteine levels are correlated with low levels of B12 and B6 vitamins.  Supplementing with these vitamins will reduce homocysteine levels and mitigate that risk.  High levels of homocysteine are also associated with an increased vascular risk.  Vascular risk factors such as hypertension and raised LDL cholesterol are generally acknowledged risk factors for developing Alzheimer’s Disease, so lowering your homocysteine levels by supplementing with B vitamins is generally a good prevention decision.

prevent-dementia-with-wine4. Mild to Moderate Wine Intake

Yes, thought you’d like this one :-)

Studies have found that supplementing your lifestyle with mild to moderate wine intake could protect against developing Alzheimer’s Disease.  Oxidative damage to brain cells have been observed in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s Disease as increased concentration of free radicals in some areas.  Antioxidants prevent damage caused by oxidation, and one of these useful antioxidants happens to be wine.  Renown herbal expert and associate professor Kerry Bone cites a study in the Bordeaux region that studied the connection between wine intake and the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s disease.  The study found that mild drinkers only held 55% of the risk that non-drinkers had for developing the disease, and moderate drinker’s relative risk was only 28%.  After reanalysis, the protective association of wine against Alzheimer’s Disease was still apparent.  The protective factors could be oligomeric procyanidins found in the grape’s seeds and skin, or resveratrol found in grape skin, both of which are powerful antioxidants.  So drink up!



5. Gingko

This herb can be taken as a tincture or drank as a tea.  It increases blood flow throughout your body, including your brain by expanding blood vessels.  Gingko has been used for generations to enhance mental functioning and contains flavonoids and terpenoids which decrease free radicals to fight Alzheimer’s Disease.  A number of trials have been published recently investigating gingko to treat Alzheimer’s Disease and have shown a small but significant effect in actually treating the disease, but has other benefits for arresting the progression of dementia and has the added benefit of no side effects.

Alongside supplementation, lifelong learning and staying mentally engaged, dealing with stress in healthy ways, maintaining good thyroid health, and avoiding exposure to solvents are all good things to do in and of themselves.  The fact that they may also protect against Alzheimer’s Disease is just icing on the cake.

5 Simple Things You Can Do to Make Life Better For a Loved One with Dementia

Written by : Posted on January 31, 2014 : No Comments

If your friend or family member has been diagnosed with dementia, you’re first instinct is probably to ask: What can I do to Help?

Dementia turns friends and family members into caretakers and requires you to take an honest look at how much time and energy you have to expend.  Often, sons and daughters of parents diagnosed with dementia live far away or live close by but lead busy lives.  Fortunately, there are simple things you can do to make their lives easier, more independent, and to make the most of your time together.

1. Take Them Grocery Shopping Once or Twice a Week

Taking your loved one grocery shopping is a great way to help.  You’ll be spending time together which lifts the spirits and provides the social interaction and connectivity that slows the progress of dementia.  It also helps your loved one maintain independence by shopping for their own groceries, making as many decisions as they can during this time, and getting out and about without risk of getting lost.

2. Make Them a Big Calendar

Most people with Alzheimer’s Disease can still read even after their symptoms have progressed.  Making a big calendar that highlights important dates, appointments, and events will serve as a big visual reminder of tasks that need to be completed and appointments that must be attended.  This is a good way to help if you live far away and don’t get to visit in person very often.

3. Leave Safety Notes and Directions Around the Home

The home can be a dangerous place for someone with dementia, and leaving safety notes in particularly hazardous areas like in the kitchen and bathroom is a simple and helpful thing you can do to help keep your loved one safe.  Leave notes by the stove and oven, appliances, and in places where falls are most likely.  If you notice them misusing a household item, leave a not with written directions on how to use it by where it is kept.  If you lived far away from your loved one, this is a good way you can continue to make their lives safer and more independent from far away.  This is also helpful for appliances.  Remember, people with Alzheimer’s Disease can still read.

4. Make a List of Plans for Each Day

Keep these plans in a very central and visible spot.  You can work with your loved one when you see each other to develop these lists together.  Things to do can include appointments and events, but also daily chores, tasks, and activities that your loved one enjoys.  This will help provide structure for their days and exercises their ability to track and complete their tasks throughout the day.  Oftentimes, depression comes from lack of purpose and structure and making lists and accomplishing them helps restore a sense of purpose and accomplishment.

5. Take Them on Walks

However many times a week or a month you can spare, go on a walk with your loved one.  Exercise promotes cognitive functioning and is recommended by the Mayo Clinic to help slow the progression of dementia.  However, it’s dangerous for people with dementia to go on walks alone as they tend to get disoriented and confused.  Taking your loved one on a walk is a great way to spend time together doing something that benefits them and improves their quality of life.

Dementia is hard on the friends and family.  Watching a loved one’s dementia progress is painful and can be scary and overwhelming.  The Alzheimer’s Association has a directory for caregiver support groups across the United States.  You can also find regional resources for support groups through Caregiver.com.


Diagnosing Alzheimer’s: Dementia or Dementia-like Symptoms?

Written by : Posted on January 29, 2014 : No Comments

So you’ve noticed that you or a loved one are having significant memory problems that are affecting your day to day life and hindering your ability to take care of yourself.  Getting lost in places you know well, not being able to follow directions, becoming more confused about places, people, and time, and asking the same question over and over again are signs of serious memory problems.  It’s time to see a your primary care physician.

Having significant memory problems doesn’t necessarily mean you are in the early to moderate stages of Alzheimer’s Disease (even if you’re over the age of 65), but it is indicative that your brain is sick and you have health issues that need to be addressed.  Many conditions that cause dementia-like symptoms can be reversed or at least the symptoms can be stopped from worsening if treated, but the first step is diagnosis and the second is treatment.  Figuring out what’s causing memory problems requires a thorough evaluation of medical history, a physical and neurological examination, brain imagine, blood and other tests, and mental status testing.  You are likely to be referred to at least one specialist such as a neurologist, psychiatrist, psychologist, or geriatrician.  Many people seek treatment from naturopathic doctors as well after their diagnosis.

Causes of Dementia-Like Symptoms

When you go to your physician and specialists, they will perform tests to rule out other causes of dementia-like symptoms and you may come up positive.  Although these causes are serious and need to be dealt with immediately, they are reversible and with proper treatment of the causes of your symptoms, your symptoms will go away.

Vitamin Deficiencies and Dietary Choices

Memory problems are often due to vitamin deficiencies, particularly vitamin B12.  Dietary choices also greatly impact mental functioning on all levels.  Excessive use of alcohol may also be a culprit.  Making sure you’re eating healthy and getting all the proper amounts of vitamins will improve your memory if this is determined to be the cause.  Your doctor will help you figure out how to best address your vitamin deficiencies and rework your diet.

Prescription Drug Side Effects and Interactions

Oftentimes prescription drugs are the culprit of memory problems.  If you’re on prescription drugs, you should be checking in with a doctor about them regularly and report any abnormalities you may be feeling.  Switching or readjusting medications and dosages under the supervision of a doctor will alleviate dementia-like symptoms caused by this.

Thyroid Problems

The bad news is thyroid problems are very serious and effect the hormone levels of your body.  The thyroid is a gland that basically has its hand in every cookie jar and when it’s malfunctioning it cause serious harm to you physically and mentally and wreak havoc on your life.  The good news is, it can be diagnosed with a blood test and thyroid conditions are very treatable.

Depression Causes Dementia-Like Symptoms

Depression affects your hormones and your brain chemistry.  Symptoms of depression include brain fog and withdrawal from social activities and hobbies, which are also early warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease.  If depression is affecting your memory and you’re taking medication for depression, you may be experiencing brain fog both from depression and medication.

Dementia: Vascular Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease

At least two of the following functions must be impaired significantly to be considered dementia: communication and language, the ability to focus, reasoning and judgement, visual perception, and memory.  Dementia is caused by damaged brain cells which interferes with their abilities to communicate.   Alzheimer’s disease accounts for 60-80% of all dementia.  Vascular dementia accounts for 20-30% and occurs from acute brain damage such as a stroke.  With vascular dementia, damage cannot be repaired, but they can be stopped from getting worse with treatment for the conditions causing the brain damage such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and strokes.

Alzheimer’s specifically is identified by brain abnormalities which include plaques and tangles.  Plaques form when beta-amyloids–pieces of protein clump together blocking cell-to-cell synaptic signalling and can activate the immune system triggering disabled cells to be devoured and inflammation in the brain.  Tangles obstruct the transport system made of proteins.  These strands are supposed to be parallel and allow cells to communicate with each other.  The protein called tau helps keep these strands straight.  When tau collapses into tangles, the tracks fall apart and disintegrate.  Nutrients can’t move along these tracts to the cells that need the nutrients die.  This causes brain degeneration and the memory loss that comes along with Alzheimer’s disease as plaques and tangles spread through the cortex of the brain.

What You Can do in the Meantime

While you wait for test results to come back, it’s never too early or too late to partake in the Mayo Clinic’s recommended lifestyle and home remedies.  To improve cognitive functioning–and even to help to slow down the progression of Alzheimer’s Disease–they have several recommendations you can do right away.

The first is to get regular exercise, whether it’s working out or going for a walk with a friend.  The next is to eat a healthy diet filled with fruits and vegetables and low in fat.  They also recommend eating foods rich in Omega-3 fatty acids like fish.  You can also take a supplement.  Omega-3 is great for your heart and cognitive health.  Finally, staying socially and intellectually engaged will help your cognitive functioning and also help ease depression if that’s what is causing memory trouble.  Maintaining social ties and support during your process of diagnosis is important.

10 Warning Signs of Serious Memory Loss and What to do Next

Written by : Posted on January 22, 2014 : No Comments

According to the National Institute of Health, half of all people in the United States over the age of 85 and an estimated 5 million Americans over the age of 65 have Alzheimer’s.  Symptoms tend to show up over the age of 60.  Once diagnosed the average life expectancy of individuals diagnosed in the early to moderate stages of Alzheimer’s is eight years during which plaques and tangles spread throughout the cortex of the brain, according to alz.org.

Alzheimer’s Disease is not a normal part of aging.  Below are ten symptoms that are particular to memory loss due to Alzheimer’s Disease that show communication within the brain is deteriorating.  If you notice that you or a loved on are experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s important to consult a doctor.

1) Daily Life Disrupted by Memory Loss

Of course, it’s normal to forget people’s names, appointments, and other information but remember them again later.  However, forgetting information that’s been recently learned, having to be reminded of something over and over again, and having to rely on memory aids and strategies more and more are signs of memory loss that is both interrupting daily life and progressing and are cause for concern.

2) Problem-Solving and Planning are Challenging

Developing and following plans, following familiar recipes, and balancing checkbooks and keeping track of bills will prove more difficult and require significantly more time to complete.

3) Difficulty Carrying out Familiar Tasks

This includes getting lost on your way home while driving a familiar route or navigating a neighborhood you’ve lived in for years, or forgetting how to play a favorite game.  Occasionally needing help working electronic devices and appliances is normal.

4) Confusing Place and Time

Forgetting what day it is but remembering it later is normal.  People exhibiting symptoms of Alzheimer’s loose track of the passage of time and place, tend to forget how they got from point A to point B, and have trouble comprehending things that are not presently occuring.

5) Challenges with Spacial Relationships and Images

Some people experience vision trouble as an early sign of Alzheimer’s.  Vision impairment due to cataracts is normal, but difficulty judging distances and color contrasts may be indicative of neurological causes.

6) New Speaking and Writing ChallengesPeople exhibiting early signs of Alzheimer’s tend to have new speech and writing problems including stopping in the middle of sentences as though lost, joining conversations, and tend to repeat themselves.  Although it’s normal to sometimes have trouble finding the right word, struggling significantly and consistently to retrieve vocabulary and calling the right thing by the wrong name are not normal.

7) Misplacing Items and Being Unable to Retrace One’s Steps

It’s normal to misplace items but be able to retrace one’s steps to finding them.  However, early signs of Alzheimer’s include misplacing your keys in the freezer, and other actions of putting things in unusual places and being unable to retrace one’s steps to find them.  This also shows confusion about time and place.

8) Poor Judgement

People exhibiting early signs of Alzheimer’s Disease have decreased judgement and decision-making skills.  Signs include being unusually susceptible to telemarketers and forgetting to groom or keep oneself clean.  Making a poor decision occasionally is normal, but consistently exhibiting uncharacteristically poor judgement is reason for concern.

9) Work and Social Withdrawal

Although withdrawing from work or social activities may be a result of other dementia-related changes, it is nonetheless a symptom of the early stages of Alzheimer’s.  People may withdraw from work, social activities they were previously engaged with, or have trouble keeping up with or remembering how to carry out their hobbies.

10) Mood and Personality Changes

Changes in mood and personality are indicative in people experiencing the early stages of Alzheimer’s Disease.  Being fearful, depressed, and suspicious is a sign that something may not be quite right, and they may tend to become uncharacteristically upset at home, at work, or in new places.

If you or someone you love is experiencing symptoms of memory loss it only makes sense to be concerned, especially with the statistics about the rate of Alzheimer’s in this country.  However, just because someone is experiencing memory loss over the age of sixty doesn’t necessarily mean they have Alzheimer’s Disease.  Many of the conditions that cause serious memory problems are reversible, although still serious.  If you or someone you love is experiencing any of these symptoms, don’t ignore it.  Consult a doctor to find out what is causing memory problems.  If it’s due to depression, medication interactions, vitamin deficiencies, or thyroid irregularities, if the cause is treated memory loss symptoms will go away.

If memory loss is due to vascular dementia or early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, early detection will help you and your loved ones prepare for the future and reduce stress and ease transitions in the long run for everyone.

Source: Alzheimer’s Association, “Memory Loss & 10 Early Signs of Alzheimer’s.” 2009.  http://www.alz.org/alzheimers_disease_10_signs_of_alzheimers.asp#signs