A research group at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) is pioneering a protocol that uses a variety of different lifestyle modifications to optimise metabolic parameters – such as inflammation and insulin resistance – that are associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Participants were given personalised support to change their diets, exercise, improve sleep and develop techniques to manage stress better, with respect to their individual metabolic profiles. This new approach to the treatment of Alzheimer's has been found to deliver extraordinary improvements, to such an extent that nearly every participant was back in the normal range for memory and cognition by the study's end.
The success of this lifestyle-modification therapy stands in stark contrast to the repeated failures to find 'magic bullet' drugs to cure or reverse Alzheimer's and other chronic neurodegenerative disorders. While molecular approaches have greatly increased knowledge about the details of the disease, they have not produced successful treatments. It is striking that using a different, more holistic paradigm to approach Alzheimer's has yielded better results. The researchers at UCLA opted to view Alzheimer's as an indication of disarry in a highly complex system - and then sought to optimise the system by changing the inputs (food, exercise) and context (sleep, stress managment), without needing to know what was going on at the cellular level. This parallels similar successes with the management of type II diabetes with diet and exercise.
Finding effective treatments for Alzheimer's (and other chronic diseases such as diabetes) is an urgent priority as populations age; projections indicate a tripling of cases to 14 million in the US alone over the next three decades. Comprehensive lifestyle interventions are currently niche, but could they scale up to offer a serious alternative - or complement - to the current pharmaceutical model?