February 2003 | Alzheimer’s Disease

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By Dr. Matsen

In the 1970s, autopsy studies of the brains of people with Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) revealed the presence of high levels of aluminum. Many people seem to be aware of the probable link between aluminum and AD.

What many people may not be aware of is that more recent autopsy studies have also found high levels of mercury. At the University of Kentucky in the 1980s, Markesbery showed that, in Alzheimer diseased brains, mercury was more prevalent than aluminum, while Swiss studies in the 1990s found both mercury and aluminum levels to be high.

At the University of Kentucky, Boyd E. Haley found that human brain tissue exposed to mercury showed alterations similar to that seen in AD. Haley also discovered that rats exposed to low levels of mercury vapour had similar changes in brain tissue as those seen in AD. On searching for possible sources of mercury in the human brain, he was surprised to find that the “silver“ amalgam fillings in his teeth—and only two inches from his brain—were actually 50 percent mercury and only 32 percent silver; he began to suspect dental amalgams as potential contributors to the development of AD.

However, in 1999, the School of Dentistry at the University of Kentucky published a study in Journal of the American Dental Association claiming proof that mercury from amalgam fillings was not connected with AD. While Haley questioned some of the findings of this study, it inspired him to look for other sources of mercury exposure. He learned that J. Curtis Pendergrass, also at the University of Kentucky, had been studying thimerosal, the mercury preservative that has been used in some vaccines since the 1930s. Pendergrass had already found that thimerosal mercury could create brain damage similar to that seen in AD.

Working with Mark Lovell, Haley conducted further studies on the toxic effects of thimerosal on human neurons (nerve cells). Their conclusions, as reported in Mothering Magazine, November-December, 2002, were: “Pure thimerosal was toxic at….an extremely low concentration, about 10,000 times less than the thimerosal concentration found in most vaccines. These results leave little doubt about thimerosal being the toxic agent in the vaccines.”

Haley also tested aluminum’s effect on thimerosal. He reported: “The results were unequivocal: the presence of aluminum dramatically increased the rate of neuronal death caused by thimerosal. Therefore, the aluminum-and-thimerosal combination found in vaccines produces a toxic mixture that cannot be compared to situations where thimerosal alone is the toxic exposure.”

Halsey also states: “One of the conundrums of autism is why there is an approximate ratio of four boys to every girl who gets this disease. Dr. Lovell therefore tested the possibility that this disease could be hormone-related. The latest results were quite marked in their effects. Neurons that were pre-incubated with estrogen demonstrated substantial protection against thimerosal-induced neuron death. In contrast, the addition of testosterone caused a very large increase in thimerosal-induced neuron death.”

“The synergistic enhancement of thimerosal toxicity by testosterone and aluminum demonstrates that no one can pick a concentration of mercury or organic-mercury and say, with confidence, ‘This is a safe dose for human infants’—at least not with our current level of knowledge.”

So mercury and aluminum have been found to be synergistic in their toxic effects and are suspected to be involved in the development of AD. Let’s look at how metals might be playing a role in the development of disease. The main message of Eating Alive II is that deadly peroxides are constantly being formed in your body, but you have enzymes—in particular glutathione peroxidase enzyme—that are designed to quickly chop deadly peroxides into harmless water. However, heavy metals like mercury that are loose in the body will bind to selenium or sulfur. Since glutathione peroxidase carries both selenium and sulfur (see diagram from Eating Alive II on page 411), mercury can dramatically interfere with the ability of this enzyme to chop destructive peroxides into harmless water. And because glutathione peroxidase also weakens with age, it may be years before critical symptoms appear to indicate damage to your body.

If peroxides aren’t quickly neutralized, they bind to fats called lipids, forming lipid peroxides that can travel throughout the body. When a lipid peroxide contacts a membrane it can release an OH group called a hydroxyl radical into the membrane, tearing up the membrane’s fats until eventually captured by a vitamin E. (See diagram from Eating Alive II on page 414.)

The vitamin E supplement commonly used for protection against these oxygen-based hydroxyl radicals is alpha tocopherol. However, vitamin E is actually a complex; it’s made up of eight molecules, four tocopherols (alpha, beta, delta and gamma tocopherol) and four tocotrienols (alpha, beta, delta and gamma tocotrienol). Each molecule is called a ‘vitamer’ and while they are closely related to each other, they can have quite different actions in your body. The four tocotrienols, especially high in whole grain rice, can lower cholesterol for example, while the four tocopherols cannot.

Perhaps more important is that supplementing heavily with one vitamer such as alpha tocopherol can inhibit the absorption of other vitamer such as gamma tocopherol. Gamma tocopherol neutralizes the suspect involved in the damage seen in Alzheimer diseased brains, as well as other central nervous system diseases. This nerve-damaging culprit is created by peroxides that have bonded to nitrogen rather than oxygen.

If the peroxides bind to nitric oxide, then a nitrogen-based chemical called peroxynitrate is created. Smokers are known to have particularly high levels of peroxynitrates. These nitrogen-based chemicals have much longer life spans than oxygen-based free radicals and are therefore capable of doing much more damage to membranes. Also, the more polyunsaturated fats there are in a membrane, then the more susceptible that membrane is to free radical damage The membranes highest in polyunsaturated fats are found in the brain, the eye and sperm.

Studies of people with AD have shown decreased levels of gamma tocopherol in their brains with increased levels of the breakdown products of gamma tocopherol, indicating that high peroxynitrate free radical activity in their brains had drained their gamma tocopherol reserves (Journal of Neuroscience, 1998, 18(20):8126-32, Nitric Oxide, 2002 6(2):221-7). The more recent of these two studies used nitrogen-based free radicals to attack a key brain enzyme and found that alpha tocopherol reduced the damage by 15 percent, while gamma tocopherol protected by 55 percent.

Since supplementing with alpha tocopherol decreases gamma tocopherol (Journal of Nutrition, 1985, 115(6):807-13), then supplementing with alpha tocopherol as the sole source of vitamin E, especially if central nervous system damage is beginning, is foolhardy. If one wants to use a vitamin E supplement, it should contain gamma tocopherol. I use one called ‘Total E’ by AOR, which contains all eight of the vitamin E molecules.

The protective properties of the whole E spectrum won’t be confined just to the brain, however. A study on prostate cancer concluded, “Statistically significant protective associations for high levels of selenium and alpha tocopherol were observed only when gamma tocopherol concentrations were high.” (Journal of the National Cancer Institute, 2000, 92:2018-23) So taking a Total E with selenium will not only protect the brain and central nervous system, but the prostate, as well.

The other way to get your vitamin E is from your diet. Up to 70 percent of the vitamin E in seeds, nuts, beans and whole grains is gamma tocopherol. Other sources of the vitamin E spectrum are fish and leafy greens, all of which are included in the Eating Alive Program. Of course, fats in foods are only as good as the soil the plant is grown in and the storage, handling and processing it’s subjected to after harvesting. So searching out reliable producers and suppliers of quality food is important.

The need for vitamin E is reduced by decreasing the free radical burden on the body, which means not only eating alive, but correcting intestinal flora imbalances and improving liver enzyme function, especially that of glutathione peroxidase. This of course includes minimizing the metal load on this critical enzyme, which means avoiding mercury fillings and vaccines that contain mercury, such as the flu shot and hepatitis B shot. If you already have mercury in your body, it’s also important to avoid vaccines that have aluminum, especially if you’re male, or a woman past menopause.

The big remaining question is: if the mercury preservative thimerosal, (which has been used in many vaccines over the last 70 years), is, indeed, an important trigger for the development of AD in older people, did the mercury get into the brain from the flu shots that they received in later years, or was it from the vaccines they received many years earlier, perhaps as young babes? Either way, there has to be an urgency to remove metals from the brain with chelators such as DMSA.

Ponder those disturbing thoughts. And ask yourself one final question: with all this evidence pointing to the dangers of flu shots and vaccines containing mercury components, why hasn’t our medical systems considered mercury substances dangerous? Why are we still encouraged to get flu shots and vaccines containing any traces whatsoever of these metals?

Until next month, continue eating alive!