Prion disorders: Alzheimer's Disease; Parkinson's Disease; Creutzfeldt-Jacob's Disease & Motor Neurone Disease

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We are currently seeing an epidemic of these conditions - the number of people suffering from it is increasing fast. Not my words but the words of Professor Colin Pritchard, professor of epidemiological medicine at Southampton University. They are an inevitable part of Western lifestyles and diets high in sugar and refined carbohydrate. Indeed Alzheimer's has been dubbed "Diabetes of the brain".

What are prion disorders?

I have no difficulty with the concept of prion disorders. I think of prion disorders as protein cancers. Prions are proteins which are normally present in the body and perform essential functions. However, if they come into contact with a particular toxin or heavy metal or another twisted prion (rotten apple effect), then they too twist and distort. When they twist in such a way that they cannot be broken down by the body enzyme systems, they cause problems because the body cannot break them down so it dumps them. Pathologically this is known as amyloid. This results in deposition of these indigestible proteins and this can be anywhere in the body.

Cancers, of course, are simply cells which replicate themselves and build up to cause problems. Viruses are strips of DNA which replicate themselves and build up in the body to cause problems. Difficulties arise when they literally get in the way of the body and stop it functioning normally. Although amyloid can occur anywhere in the body, the biggest problem is in the brain, perhaps because it is a closed box and therefore there is not any room for all this excess protein to be dumped and partly because each part of the brain is unique and any loss of function is quickly noticed.

So these protein cancers tend to cause problems which may take many years to develop and so far the medical profession has no method of slowing down this process.

From work done with BSE (which is also a protein cancer like CJD) there appear to be two phases. After the build up of prions, there then appears to be an auto-immune phase, where the body suddenly recognises this protein as being foreign. This causes inflammation against this prion material in an attempt to get rid of it, but the inflammation does far more damage than the prion and the disease process is suddenly accelerated. In BSE this is often triggered by a stressful event such as a calving or very cold weather.

Huntington's disease fits many of the criteria of a prion disorder so the approach to treatment would be similar to any other prion disorder.

What creates prions?

Just as cancers have triggers and causes, we now recognise some of the triggers for prion disorders. The best documented are heavy metals, pesticides and natural toxins, but there may well be others. For example:

  • Parkinson's disease is associated with manganese toxicity and organophosphate pesticides.
  • Motor neurone disease is also associated with manganese poisoning and cycad (a natural toxin from beans).
  • Alzheimer's disease has been linked to aluminium toxicity (as, for example, in dialysis dementia) and also mercury toxicity. The mercury may be coming from dental amalgam fillings. Both mercury and aluminium either have been or continue to be used in vaccination - it may be that annual flu vaccinations increase the load of heavy metals year on year. Recent studies show they may be partly responsible for our current epidemic of Alzheimer's disease.
  • CJD - studies of BSE show clear association with exposure to organophosphate pesticides and also to manganese (in the absence of copper). Human cases of CJD are more likely to be related either to pesticide poisoning or direct infection through vaccination, blood transfusion or surgery. There is no evidence that CJD may be acquired by eating beef - that is an unproven assumption.
  • MSA - Multi System Atrophy - my guess is that this too is a prion disorder with the prion in this case being alpha-synuclein. The main symptoms arise from neurological damage and from POTs (postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome). My view is that POTs arises as a result of poor cardiac output - see Postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome or POTs. If indeed this is the case then we could explain MSA in terms of a mitochondrial disorder. The thinking is that the brain and heart are the most energy demanding organs in the body so when energy supply is impaired these are the first two to be affected. It may be that MSA is a prion disorder that impacts on mitochondria and symptoms arise because of mitchondrial failure in brain and heart. See CFS - The Central Cause: Mitochondrial Failure

Mitochondria and neurodegenerative conditions

It is becoming increasingly apparent that mitochondria are major players. For further information see Dr Robert Naviaux's paper for which he was awarded the 1997 Lennox Foudation prize for work on mitochondria and metabolic disorders. Click on the title to read the paper: The Spectrum of Mitochondrial Disease

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