Imagine that some of the simple, everyday laboratory tests your doctor orders might actually be useful as early Alzheimer’s Disease / dementia screening tools. And it’s true! They can be. Most conventional doctors aren’t aware of this. However, you can use them to your advantage! They can alert you to trouble ahead.
Several lab tests may actually provide early screening potential for Alzheimer’s and dementia. Other lab tests shed light on additional risk factors.
In this article, I’m going to share with you five lab tests are easy to order at a reasonable cost. They can detect cognitive decline decades before it becomes noticeable. This might give you time to take proactive prevention steps.
Cortisol As a Potential Alzheimer’s/Dementia Screening:
Research has long shown strong associations between Alzheimer’s and cortisol. Cortisol is the adrenal hormone that your body produces during times of chronic stress. Studies link higher levels of cortisol with smaller hippocampus size. The hippocampus is the part of the brain that houses short-term memory and several other important functions. Cortisol has a toxic effect on the hippocampus, causing it to shrink and malfunction. As cortisol goes up, your brain size and function go down .
Newer research also links increased cortisol with the speed of decline in dementia. One study looked at 416 people over the course of six years. They found that if people already had high levels of amyloid-beta, a protein thought to contribute to Alzheimer’s, then the high cortisol had an even greater effect .
Cortisol is incredibly easy to test. There are two ways to test cortisol: blood and saliva. A blood sample measures the total amount of cortisol, whereas the saliva test measures only the active “free” form.
Inflammation As a Major Alzheimer’s/Dementia Risk Factor:
We’re all familiar with the concept of inflammation. Most of us have broken a bone, sprained an ankle, or sustained another type of injury. Consequently, we experienced pain, tenderness, swelling, and may even redness. Another possible consequence of inflammation is itching; this happens in cases of eczema, psoriasis, poison ivy, allergic reactions, and so on.
However, what we may not realize is that inflammation plays a major role in brain dysfunction. In fact, it may even contribute to Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia .
I use several lab tests to detect inflammatory processes in patients. These include C-Reactive Protein, ESR (sedimentation rate), and a few others.
For our purposes today, however, there are several other inflammation-related lab markers that are associated strongly with Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Homocysteine is one such marker. A by-product of amino acid metabolism, Homocysteine plays a major role in detoxification. Our body makes it, and a certain amount of it is necessary for good health.
However, it’s easy for Homocysteine to become too high. This is particularly true for those with mutations in the MTHFR gene and other genes. Nutrient deficiencies, especially of B-complex vitamins, can also have a significant impact.
High Homocysteine typically doesn’t cause any obvious symptoms early on. However, symptoms do emerge, and they accumulate over time. Homocysteine’s link to cardiovascular disease gets most of the attention, but wherever you see “vascular”, don’t just think “heart”. Think “brain”, too! A growing body of research reveals a major link between Homocysteine and dementia. In fact, Homocysteine levels in one’s 40s and 50s (and likely earlier) can actually predict dementia risk .
Blood testing of Homocysteine is simple and routine.
Neutrophils are a type of white blood cell that kills bacteria. They’re definitely good to have on your side during an infection, but they can have “side-effects” of their own. This is especially true if they’re chronically elevated. One such “side-effect” is chronic inflammation, which is your brain’s Enemy No. 1.
Medical researchers have only recently begun to realize the connection between high Neutrophils and Alzheimer’s Disease. Interestingly, the cognitive decline seen in people with excess Neutrophil levels was reversible once the Neutrophil levels came down .
Testing for Neutrophils couldn’t be easier to come by. Neutrophils are a common component of a Complete Blood Cell Count, or CBC, one of the most routine panels available. It’s important to make sure your doctor orders a “CBC with differential“. (Not all CBCs include a differential unless the doctor specifies it.) Otherwise, Neutrophil results won’t be reported.
Is Vitamin D Deficiency an Alzheimer’s Risk Factor??
Given all of the press coverage on Vitamin D lately, we might begin to wonder: “is there anything Vitamin D can’t do?” Perhaps. But the list of benefits keeps on growing!
Not surprisingly, we can add cognitive function and brain health to that list. A research team in Great Britain summarized findings of a growing body of published journal papers. Brain cells have receptors for Vitamin D, and Vitamin D appears to have a protective effect against cognitive decline .
Like the other tests so far, assessing Vitamin D levels is inexpensive. Vitamin D testing is incredibly common and increasingly easily justifiable to health insurance companies.
GGT (Gamma-Glutamyl Transferase) and Cognitive Decline:
GGT is an enzyme found in several organs in your body. A marked increase in GGT often indicates damage to one or more of these organs. Damage to different areas of the body can impact the brain and cognitive function. In fact, a research team in Sweden conducted a longitudinal study of 452 people. They found that high GGT levels were associated with cognitive decline, specifically the type caused by vascular dementia. Thus, it appears that organ damage takes place first. Then GGT levels go up. Finally, vascular dementia takes hold, causing cognitive decline .
Although not quite as routine a test as Vitamin D or Homocysteine, a GGT test is easy to come by and very inexpensive.
Alzheimer’s & Dementia Lab Test Wrap-Up:
In truth, this is not an exhaustive list. There are many more contributors to brain health, such as omega-3 fats (like those found in fish oils), digestive function assessments, other vitamins and minerals, and so on. However, what I hoped to accomplish with this article is to give you a handful of quick-and-easy lab tests that shed light on your risk of developing Alzheimer’s or dementia. Chances are, these lab tests may already be a part of your wellness regime. Now you can get greater mileage out of them by being able to utilize them in a new way!
Dr. Sweeney and Her Approach to Functional Medicine Examines the Whole Picture.
While working With Dr. Sweeney, You’ll Learn:
- What kinds of foods and supplements can stave off cognitive decline?
- Which brain exercises should you invest time into, and which ones are a waste of time?
- Can I actually make significant improvement or protect my brain by saying words?? Which ones??
- What types of physical activity are most efficient and effective for preventing brain deterioration?
- If I’ve hit my head in the past, how does that affect my Alzheimer’s/dementia risk? What special concerns do we have to consider and address? How does is my approach different from someone without that kind of past event?
- And much more!
In Health, Love, and Light,
~Dr. L. Sweeney, DC, BS, IFMCP
References and Further Reading on Lab Tests and Dementia:
 Stress Effects on the Hippocampus: A Critical Review ~ Learn. Mem., 2015
 Alzheimer’s Disease Study Finds Potential Link Between Stress Hormone and Speed of Decline ~ ABC Australia, 2016
 Are They Connected? ~ Neurochem. Res., 2007
 Could Inflammation In Midlife Predict…? ~ Medical News Today, 2017
 Neutrophils Promote Alzheimer’s Disease-Like Pathology… ~ Nature Medicine, 2015
 Vitamin D and Cognitive Function ~ Scand. J. Clin. Lab. Invest. Suppl., 2012
 GGT As a Marker of Cognitive Decline At the End of Life… ~ Cambridge University Press, 2017