What is Toxic Alzheimer's Disease?

by Justin Perr, M.S. Candidate, Dietetic InternNews
Yellow toxic sign with skull and crossbones

Many people are unfamiliar with the term “toxic Alzheimer’s.” Since this subtype of Alzheimer’s disease is not well known by the public, and even most doctors, it can be difficult to find information on this disease process.

So, what is toxic Alzheimer’s? Toxic Alzheimer’s is the third subtype of Alzheimer’s disease that is characterized by an exposure to toxic molds, heavy metals, or other environmental contaminants along with hormonal irregularities. Symptoms of toxic Alzheimer’s often occur earlier than other subtypes, and diagnosis can be more difficult to make.

In this post, we will discuss the causes, signs, symptoms, and treatment of toxic Alzheimer’s disease.

What causes toxic Alzheimer’s?

These days there are toxins everywhere that you look. There are heavy metals in our food, mold in our houses, toxic substances in our plastic, and pollutants in the air. That is to say, if you live in an industrial society, toxin exposure is a fact of life. While these toxins certainly are not good for us, we are also capable of removing these substances from our bodies on our own. This process is known as detoxification. The issue arises when more toxins are entering our bodies than we can remove, or when our natural detoxification system is unequipped to detoxify a given substance. When this occurs for some people, they begin to develop a subtype of Alzheimer’s disease known as toxic Alzheimer’s. The most common contributors of toxic Alzheimer’s are as follows:

Mycotoxins

Mycotoxins are a class of toxic chemicals secreted from certain types of molds. Some of the most well documented mycotoxins include aflatoxin, ochratoxin, fumonisin, gliotoxins, and trichothecenes. These toxins are capable of disrupting neurotransmitter synthesis, depleting the body’s antioxidant reserve, impairing blood brain barrier integrity, and even killing brain cells. Altogether, a heavy burden of mycotoxins can contribute to the onset of toxic Alzheimer's disease [1].

Heavy Metals

Heavy metals are another source of chemical toxicants that can contribute towards Alzheimer’s disease. The most common neurotoxic chemicals are lead, mercury, and arsenic. While we are still waiting on further research to clarify the role of heavy metals in Alzheimer’s disease, this is what we know:

Lead

Lead is a heavy metal that readily passes through the blood brain barrier to cause direct damage to the brain. The result of lead toxicity is neuroinflammation, oxidative stress, and neurodegeneration [2]. 

Mercury

Mercury disrupts the body’s natural antioxidant system and causes an accumulation of reactive oxygen species. These are destructive molecules that damage the DNA and cause all sorts of issues. In the case of Alzheimer's, mercury builds up in the brain and contributes to memory loss and personality changes [3].

Arsenic

Arsenic is a heavy metal found in the soil, air, and contaminated water. Arsenic travels through the blood and enters into various organ tissues where it stays. In the brain, arsenic disrupts the metabolism of brain cells called astrocytes. This metabolic disruption causes impairment to the central nervous system [2].

Other Toxins

There are many other toxins that we are exposed to in our modern world. Many of these are found in plastic products, such as bisphenol-A (BPA). Other sources include herbicides and pesticides used in agriculture.

Poor Detoxification

While we should do our best to avoid the environmental toxins listed above, we also need to pay attention to the systems which are responsible for clearing these substances from our bodies. In general, the body uses a combination of antioxidants and enzymes in order to successfully detox heavy metals, mycotoxins, and other substances. If antioxidant levels are low, the body will be less equipped to eliminate toxins. Additionally, some people have lower amounts of enzymes in their bodies for genetic reasons. These genes can be tested and include:

MTHFR (methylation gene)

COMT (phase II detoxification)

GST (antioxidant production)

UGT (phase II detoxification)

CYP (phase I detoxification)

There are some supplements that can be taken to improve the rate of these enzymes depending on genetic testing results [4].

What are the signs and symptoms of toxic Alzheimer’s?

Toxic Alzheimer’s can be one of the hardest subtypes to diagnose. This is because different toxins affect the brain in different ways. For this reason, it is important to understand all signs and symptoms that may lead to a diagnosis. The following signs and symptoms are as outlined by Dr. Dale Bredesen as a part of the Bredesen Protocol in the book “The End of Alzheimer’s” [8].

  • Symptoms begin before age 65
  • Usually ApoE4 negative
  • No family history, or family history with symptoms beginning only at ages much older than the patient’s
  • Symptoms often occur around the time of menopause or andropause
  • Depression precedes or accompanies the cognitive decline
  • Headache is an early symptom, and sometimes the first
  • Typical symptoms include executive function deficits (planning, problem solving, organizing, focusing), inability to manipulate number/perform calculations, trouble speaking or loss of speech, problems with visual perception, or problems with learned programs such as dressing
  • Precipitation or exacerbation by great stress (e.g., loss of employment, divorce, family change) and sleep loss
  • Exposure to mycotoxins or metals (e.g., inorganic mercury via amalgams, or organic mercury via fish) or both
  • Diagnosis of CIRS (chronic inflammatory response syndrome) with cognitive decline
  • Imaging suggests brain changes not seen in most cases of Alzheimer’s
  • Low serum triglycerides or low ratio of triglycerides to total cholesterol
  • Low serum zinc (<75mcg/dL) or RBC zinc, or ratio of copper to zinc >1.3
  • HPA axis dysfunction, with low pregnenolone, DHEA-S, and/or AM cortisol
  • High serum C4a, TGF-B1, or MMP; or low serum MSH (melanocyte-stimulating hormone)
  • HLA-DR/DQ associated with multiple biotoxin sensitivities or pathogen-specific sensitivity

What is the treatment for toxic Alzheimer’s?

Treatment of toxic Alzheimer’s varies from person to person. However, there are two core principles to any treatment plan.

  1. Reduce exposure: If there is a toxin that is causing a problem in our body, it is important that we prevent any further exposure. In the case of mold this may require an inspection or deep cleaning of the home to identify potential sources. Regardless, it is important to use a HEPA filter to remove any mycotoxins from the air. Heavy metals can be avoided by drinking filtered water and consuming low mercury foods. High mercury foods like swordfish, shark, and tuna can be replaced with low mercury SMASH fish (Salmon, Mackerel, Anchovies, Sardines, Herring). Additionally, it is worth considering the removal of dental mercury amalgams as a potential source of toxin exposure.
  2. Enhance elimination: There are changes that we can make in our diet, lifestyle, and supplement regime to improve the body’s ability to efficiently excrete various toxins. From a dietary perspective, it is important to eat a large amount of detoxifying foods that increase antioxidant production and promote a healthy gut [5]. These include sulfur-rich cruciferous vegetables (kale, broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, cabbage, and rutabaga among others) and prebiotic-rich produce (onions, leeks, garlic, artichokes, dandelion greens, jicama, and seaweed). In terms of lifestyle, it can be beneficial to engage in physical activities that promote sweating. While the role of sweating as a mode of detoxification is still being researched, preliminary studies show that it may be an effective way to eliminate some heavy metals [6]. While not a cure alone, there are some supplements that can enhance detoxification. N-Acetyl Cysteine, a precursor to the antioxidant glutathione, can be a helpful supplement to replace depleted stores of the body’s own antioxidants. When eliminating toxins, it can be helpful to be on some form of a binder. This includes supplements like activated charcoal, some clays, herbs like guggul, or fiber capsules. These supplements prevent our bodies from reabsorbing toxins once they are excreted from the liver into the intestines [7]. Without a binder, it is likely that our intestines will reabsorb the toxins back into the bloodstream. If taking a binder, it is important to take it far apart from other supplements or medications since it will prevent absorption of these as well.

Conclusion

Toxic Alzheimer’s is a difficult diagnosis to make and can be a complicated condition to treat without a qualified healthcare provider. For this reason, it is important to work with someone who is familiar with detoxification pathways to come up with a good treatment plan. If you think that you have or are at risk of toxic Alzheimer’s, make sure that you have a doctor and dietitian who are trained in the Bredesen Protocol and a functional approach to treating cognitive decline. Contact the Amos Institute today to make an appointment with a dietitian trained in the Bredesen Protocol and functional medicine. 


References

  1. Nguyen et al.: 10.1515/hsz-2021-0214
  2. Nabi & Tabussum: 10.3389/ftox.2022.837579
  3. Paduraru et al.: 10.3390/ijms23041992
  4. https://www.geneticlifehacks.com/liver-detox-genes/
  5. Minich & Brown: 10.3390/nu11092073
  6. Sears et al.: 10.1155/2012/184745
  7. Marquardt & Fohlich: 10.2527/1992.70123968x
  8. Bredesen, D. E. (2017). The end of alzheimer's: The first program to prevent and reverse cognitive decline. Avery, an imprint of Penguin Random House.