Dementia and Traditional Chinese Medicine

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Dementia is an overall term that describes a group of symptoms associated with a decline in memory or other thinking skills severe enough to reduce a person's ability to perform everyday activities. The mental symptoms include changes in memory, communication and language, the ability to focus and pay attention, reasoning and judgement, and visual perception. Alzheimer’s Disease accounts for 60 to 80 percent of all cases. Vascular Dementia, is the second most common dementia typ

Someone in the world develops dementia every 3 seconds. There were an estimated 50 million people worldwide living with dementia in 2017. It is predicted that this number will almost double every 20 years, reaching 75 million in 2030 and 131.5 million in 2050. Furthermore, in the case of most progressive dementias, there is no cure and no treatment that slows or stops its progression. Drug treatments may temporarily improve symptoms.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the three primary causes of dementia are Kidney deficiency, Blood and Phlegm Stagnation and Toxins. 

In TCM, the energy from the Kidney, Kidney essence produces marrow including cerebral marrow. The cerebral marrow nourishes the brain and maintains its physiological functions. If Kidney essence is deficient, the production of cerebral marrow is reduced, leading to symptoms such as headache, dizziness, amnesia and delayed response.

Normally, blood is pumped by the heart to the vessels. If blood circulation is stagnated or slowed down, blood flow is retained in the vessels or organs, a condition called Blood Stasis. This stasis manifests as low cerebral blood flow or stroke and results in cognitive function decline. In addition, poor digestion creates phlegm and retention of fluid, which lead to further stagnation.

Lastly, as the function of internal organs decline, toxins form. If these toxins cannot be eliminated quickly, blood circulation and mental acuity are affected, and will eventually contribute to the onset of dementia.

TCM employs Chinese Herbs, Acupuncture and food therapy, along with movement such as Tai Chi and Qi Gong exercise to improve both blood and oxygen supply to the brain to ultimately slow down the progression seen in dementia.

The following Chinese herbs have been found to have potential benefit for dementia intervention: 

  • Radix Rehmanniae (Sheng Di Huang) is a tonic used to reinforce Kidney essence and marrow;

  • Radix Angelica Sinensis (Dang Gui) is a blood tonic that prevents the formation of blood clots. It is especially useful to treat stroke and post-stroke vascular dementia induced by blood stasis;

  • Poria Cocos (Fu Ling) is a diuretic with the capacity to invigorate the Spleen and calm the mind. Clinically, it is applicable for memory decline due to Spleen deficiency and phlegm blockage;

  • Radix Polygalae (Yuan Zhi) anchors the mind and eliminates phlegm. It is indicated in forgetfulness and insomnia;

  • Radix Glycyrrhizae (Gan Cao) is a Qi tonic that invigorates the Stomach and Spleen, resolves phlegm, and clears away heat and toxin.                                                               

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