A Recipe for Alzheimer's Disease

by Stephanie Seneff

Senior Research Scientist at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)

Fructose, Sunscreen, Statins and Flu Shots:
a Recipe for Alzheimer's Disease.

Alzheimer's is a dreaded diagnosis that immediately causes a patient to confront the frightening fact that the rest of their life will be defined by steadily eroding memory and cognitive function. Alzheimer's is alarmingly on the rise, and has been so for the past several decades. The cost to society, both financially and emotionally, is staggering.

Much research effort has been devoted to the search for a "cure" for Alzheimer's, most of it predicated on the notion that the characteristic amyloid-beta plaque and tau tangles are causative. Indeed, some drugs that attack the plaque have made it to phase III clinical trials, and, although they do indeed shrink the plaque, they unfortunately also accelerate the rate of decline [1].

I think a better tactic is to look for a cause rather than a cure. Together with colleagues, I published a paper this year on a theory for the cause of Alzheimer's [2], which was based on the idea that a key contributor is insufficient cholesterol in the brain.

Indeed, a recent article has shown that serum levels of cholesterol as well as the ability to synthesize cholesterol are inversely associated with mental decline in the elderly [3]. Furthermore, another study directly comparing Alzheimer's patients with age-matched controls showed a reduced serum level of LDL in the Alzheimer's patients, with the more severe cases showing further reduction in LDL [6].

When you look back to the earliest stages of Alzheimer's, the principle defect that is observed is an impairment in glucose metabolism in the brain [4]. Neurons ordinarily depend heavily on sugar as a fuel source, but sugar is toxic to cells if it's not carefully managed.

The cells have developed a mechanism for controlling the entry of glucose to be restricted to certain "gates" - regions of the cell membrane called lipid rafts that are heavily enriched in cholesterol and sphingomyelin. When cells don't have sufficient cholesterol in their membranes, they have fewer lipid rafts, and this leads to defective glucose uptake, and therefore increased risk to glycation damage from the glucose.

The proteins in the cell get gummed up with sugar and can no longer perform their functions. Fructose is far more damaging than glucose, and fructose consumption has steadily increased in the last decades. In our paper, we described ways in which amyloid beta can actually pitch in to try to divert neurons to alternative fuel sources, in order to minimize the damage caused by wayward sugars.

Since writing that article, I have discovered some compounding factors that I think make the situation much worse. Essentially all cells in the body are surrounded by an exterior coat made up of complex molecules called "GAGs" - glycosaminoglycans.

These contain sugars, proteins, and a large population of attached ions, particularly sulfate anions. These serve, I believe, an important role in helping to safely break down sugar. Simply stated, the sulfur atom deflects the reducing actions of sugars away from the vulnerable proteins.

The sulfate anions also provide a negative field around the cell, which is very useful for keeping bacteria out, because bacteria are also negatively charged, and hence repelled by the cell's negative electric field. So cells with lots of surrounding sulfate are afforded protection from invasive bacteria.

If a bacterium does get in, the cell will have to release oxidizing agents to kill it, and the cell itself will suffer damage from exposure to its own defense system. The fats in the cell membrane are more vulnerable to oxidative damage when there is insufficient cholesterol to protect them.

I now think that depletion of sulfate supply to the brain is another important contributor to Alzheimer's, and I further think that sulfate is supplied to the brain principally by sterol sulfates like cholesterol sulfate as well as their derivatives like vitamin D3 sulfate.

Both cholesterol sulfate and vitamin D3 sulfate are synthesized in the skin upon exposure to sunlight, and it is theorized that the skin is the major supplier of these nutrients to the body [5]. This is why I believe that excess sunscreen use and excess sun avoidance are another principal causative factor in Alzheimer's disease.

Statin drugs interfere with cholesterol synthesis in the liver, but the lipophilic statin drugs (like lovastatin and simvastatin) also interfere with the synthesis of cholesterol in the brain. This would then directly impact the neurons' ability to maintain adequate cholesterol in their membranes.

Indeed, a population-based study [7] showed that people who had ever taken statins had an increased risk to Alzheimer's disease, a hazard ratio of 1.21. More alarmingly, people who used to take statins had a hazard ratio of 2.54 (over two and a half times the risk to Alzheimer's) compared to people who never took statins.

What I think is happening is that the doctor is taking the patient off the statin drug once memory problems are noted, suspecting that the statin may be causing the problem. But it may well be too late at that point to recover. In my own studies on patient-provided drug side effect reports [8], I found a statistically significant increase in the mention of words and phrases associated with memory problems (p=0.011) in the statin drug reports compared to age-matched reports on a variety of other drugs. 

Aluminum in the environment may also be a factor. Aluminum is present in sunscreen, in antiperspirants, and in many antacids. It has been demonstrated without a doubt that aluminum in the water used in dialysis fluid eventually leads to dementia in dialysis patients, if care is not taken to extract all but trace amounts of aluminum from the water [9].

A very compelling article recently appeared on all the myriad dangers associated with aluminum in vaccines, and aluminum penetration into the brain as well as cognitive damage have both been well demonstrated in animal studies.

The aluminum in the Hepatitis B vaccine is a likely source of the association found between this vaccine and autism [10], and I believe that the effects on the infant's brain and those on the elderly person's brain are similar and equally damaging.

Finally, I want to talk about flu shots. The elderly are greatly encouraged to renew their flu shots every single year, and I think this is another major factor that is steadily increasing their risk to Alzheimer's disease.

About half of the flu vaccines administered contain mercury as a preservative, and mercury is probably the most toxic heavy metal known. Furthermore, the flu virus is grown on gelatin which contains substantial amounts of glutamate, a known neurotoxin.

Stephanie Seneff is a Senior Research Scientist at MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory.
Website at MIT: people.csail.mit.edu/seneff
Blog: stephanie-on-health.blogspot.com


[1] Eli Lilly and Company, 2010 PR Newswire, Lilly Halts Development of Semagacestat for Alzheimer's Disease Based on Preliminary Results of Phase III Clinical Trials, August 17, 2010, http://newsroom.lilly.com/releasedetail.cfm?releaseid=499794 (accessed on September 24, 2011).

[2] S. Seneff, G. Wainwright, and L. Mascitelli, "Nutrition and Alzheimer's Disease: the Detrimental Role of a High Carbohydrate Diet," European Journal of Internal Medicine 22(2):134-40, Apr 2011.

[3] R.S. Tilvis, J.N. Valvanne, T.E. Strandberg and T.A. Miettinen, "Prognostic significance of serum cholesterol, lathosterol, and sitosterol in old age; a 17-year population study," Annals of Medicine, 2011; Early Online, 110

[4] E. Steen, B.M. Terry, E.J. Rivera et al. "Impaired insulin and insulin-like growth factor expression and signaling mechanisms in Alzheimer's disease-is this type 3 diabetes?" J Alzheimer's Dis 2005;7:63-80.

[5] C.A. Strott, "Cholesterol Sulfate In Human Physiology: What's It All About?" J Lipid Res 44, 1268-1278, 2003.

[6] P. Presecki, D. Mückseler, N. Mimica, et al., "Serum Lipid Levels in Patients with Alzheimer's Disease," Coll. Antropol. 35 Suppl. 1: 115120, 2011.

[7] T.D. Rea, J.C. Breitner, B.M. Psaty et al., "Statin Use and the Risk of Incident Dementia: The Cardiovascular Health Study," Arch Neurol. 62, 2005

[8] J. Liu, A. Li and S. Seneff, "Automatic Drug Side Effect Discovery from Online Patient- Submitted Reviews: Focus on Statin Drugs," Proc. IMMM, Barcelona, Spain, Oct. 2011.

[9] M.R. Wills and J. Savory, "Water Content of Aluminum, Dialysis Dementia, and Os- teomalacia" Environmental Health Perspectives 63:141-147, 1985.

[10] Gallagher OM and Goodman MS, "Hepatitis B vaccination of male neonates and autism diagnosis, NHIS 1997-2002." J Toxicol Environ Health A. 2010; 73(24):1665-77.

Updated May, 2015