Best Aromatherapy Herb for Alzheimer’s

Best Aromatherapy Herb for Alzheimer’s
4.2 (84%) 80 votes

Lemon balm may beat out drugs for controlling the symptoms of severe dementia.

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Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

Improving cognitive performance with aromatherapy in young healthy volunteers is one thing, but how about where it really matters? This group of Japanese researchers had this pie-in-the-sky notion that maybe certain smells could lead to “nerve rebirth” in Alzheimer’s patients. Twenty years ago, to even raise such a possibility as a hypothetical was heretical! Everybody knew that the loss of neurons is “irreversible.” In other words, “dead [nerve cells] are not replaced”—an important factor in neurodegenerative diseases. That’s what I was taught; that’s what everyone was taught, until 1998.

Patients with advanced cancer volunteered to be injected with a special dye that’s incorporated into the DNA of new cells. On autopsy, the researchers then went hunting for nerve cells in the brains that lit up. And, there they were, new nerve cells in the brain that didn’t exist just days or months before, demonstrating “that cell genesis occurs in human brains and [that] the human brain retains the potential for self-renewal throughout life.” Something we can take comfort in.

Still doesn’t mean smells can help, but an aromatherapy regimen of rosemary, lemon, lavender, and orange was attempted for a month. Here’s the trajectory of their ability to form abstract ideas, and their cognitive function starting six weeks before the treatment, showing a rather steady decline until they reversed after the aromatherapy. The researchers conclude that aromatherapy may be efficacious and “have some potential for improving cognitive function”—all, of course, without any apparent side effects.

What about severe dementia? We always hear about the cognitive deficits, but “more than [half] of patients with dementia experience behavioral or psychiatric symptoms.” Thorazine-type antipsychotic drugs are often prescribed, even though they appear to be particularly dangerous in the elderly. But hey, it’s easier to just prescribe a drug than offer “nonpharmacological alternatives,” such as aromatherapy—rubbing a lemon balm-infused lotion on their arms and face twice daily, compared to a lotion without the scent. Everybody got rubbed, but in the lemon balm group, “significant improvements…in…agitation…,…(shouting, screaming), and physical aggression.” And improved quality-of-life indicators—less socially withdrawn, more engagement in constructive activities. That’s important, because when you give the antipsychotics, patients become more withdrawn, less engaged; it’s like a chemical restraint. Yeah, the drugs can reduce agitation too, but that may just be because you’re effectively knocking the person out.

So, “aromatherapy with [lemon] balm…is safe, well tolerated,…highly efficacious, with additional benefits on key quality of life parameters. These findings clearly indicate the need for longer-term multicenter trials.” But we never had any, until—never. We still don’t have any. This study was back in 2002 and still nothing, but is that a surprise? Who’s going to fund such a study? Big Balm?

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

Improving cognitive performance with aromatherapy in young healthy volunteers is one thing, but how about where it really matters? This group of Japanese researchers had this pie-in-the-sky notion that maybe certain smells could lead to “nerve rebirth” in Alzheimer’s patients. Twenty years ago, to even raise such a possibility as a hypothetical was heretical! Everybody knew that the loss of neurons is “irreversible.” In other words, “dead [nerve cells] are not replaced”—an important factor in neurodegenerative diseases. That’s what I was taught; that’s what everyone was taught, until 1998.

Patients with advanced cancer volunteered to be injected with a special dye that’s incorporated into the DNA of new cells. On autopsy, the researchers then went hunting for nerve cells in the brains that lit up. And, there they were, new nerve cells in the brain that didn’t exist just days or months before, demonstrating “that cell genesis occurs in human brains and [that] the human brain retains the potential for self-renewal throughout life.” Something we can take comfort in.

Still doesn’t mean smells can help, but an aromatherapy regimen of rosemary, lemon, lavender, and orange was attempted for a month. Here’s the trajectory of their ability to form abstract ideas, and their cognitive function starting six weeks before the treatment, showing a rather steady decline until they reversed after the aromatherapy. The researchers conclude that aromatherapy may be efficacious and “have some potential for improving cognitive function”—all, of course, without any apparent side effects.

What about severe dementia? We always hear about the cognitive deficits, but “more than [half] of patients with dementia experience behavioral or psychiatric symptoms.” Thorazine-type antipsychotic drugs are often prescribed, even though they appear to be particularly dangerous in the elderly. But hey, it’s easier to just prescribe a drug than offer “nonpharmacological alternatives,” such as aromatherapy—rubbing a lemon balm-infused lotion on their arms and face twice daily, compared to a lotion without the scent. Everybody got rubbed, but in the lemon balm group, “significant improvements…in…agitation…,…(shouting, screaming), and physical aggression.” And improved quality-of-life indicators—less socially withdrawn, more engagement in constructive activities. That’s important, because when you give the antipsychotics, patients become more withdrawn, less engaged; it’s like a chemical restraint. Yeah, the drugs can reduce agitation too, but that may just be because you’re effectively knocking the person out.

So, “aromatherapy with [lemon] balm…is safe, well tolerated,…highly efficacious, with additional benefits on key quality of life parameters. These findings clearly indicate the need for longer-term multicenter trials.” But we never had any, until—never. We still don’t have any. This study was back in 2002 and still nothing, but is that a surprise? Who’s going to fund such a study? Big Balm?

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

53 responses to “Best Aromatherapy Herb for Alzheimer’s

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    1. So are they referring to Lemon balm (also called Lemon mint) the plant, scientific name Melissa Officinalis? Or is it a balm made with a lemon scent using lemon peel, lemon grass or lemon mint?




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  1. Hi everyone at NutritionFacts! Firstly thank you so much for the work you do to present unbiased nutrition truth. It’s an invaluable resource, and I appreciate it a lot. I had a question I was hoping someone could help with. I have secondary amenorrhea. I’ve eaten a plant based diet for over 4 years, vegetarian for a decade prior to that. I had my period all my years as a vegetarian but many of those I was on hormonal bc. I lost my period first two years ago after a bout of overexercise coupled with probably low overall calorie intake and definitely very very low fat intake. I regained my period for about two or three months this time last year after traveling, eating oily street food, etc, but have not had a period now in over a year. I recognize that for most of this past year I’ve had a fixation on calories and absolutely caused this problem to myself. I am eager to get healthy now, and bring back my period for good. I know upping my calories as well as my fat, and drastically decreasing rigorous exercise, or stopping altogether to be good places to start but I do want to maintain my overall healthy eating patterns while balancing my hormones. Are there any pieces of advice you could present in terms of regaining a lost period while sticking to a “how not to die” eating pattern. I don’t want to binge on too much fat if it makes me feel ill or impairs my blood flow etc. Would a focus on plenty of calories with a “normal” amount of fat intake be sufficient, or would fat % I eat need to dramatically increase as well? I want to remain fit, fairly lean and healthy while ensuring I feed my body what it needs to recover. I know every body is different and there’s no true way for you all to advise me without other medical and personal details but any tips or tricks would be so appreciated. Thanks a ton!




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    1. Honey,
      The first thing is to let go of that perfectionist mentality. You are beautiful and good enough even if you are not eating every last good thing and restricting every fatty molecule that could pass your lips. I had to learn this the hard way when I was pregnant and trying to eat plant based – enduring many hours of nausea because I refused to eat more fat and calories because “they” said it wasn’t healthy…. But it is healthy to eat enough calories. You don’t have to binge or drink coconut oil to regain your periods- I would guess adding a few more nuts to every meal (which are so full of minerals that our reproductive systems love!!) Would begin the process. Remember that it might take a few months for a cycle to fix itself- be patient and love your body. And it is not bingeing to eat healthy plant food until you are full AND satisfied. Your body is designed to tell you when it’s full- don’t let perfectionism, fear of being fat, or what you think other’s thoughts about what you’re eating get in the way (especially if others happen to be complete strangers on blogs that will never meet you or doctors that don’t know you). Women are awesome and beautiful!!!




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        1. hi Lex, I think you answered your own question – just follow Dr Greger’s ‘ How Not to Die ‘ aka Daily Dozen, and you’ll be fine. No need to compute calories, fat, protein or carbs, just check off the boxes each day. Many participants on this forum follow the no salt, oil, sugar rule suggested by most of the plant based docs . I myself do not get all the servings in of each item on the list, but I do try to get at least some. A daily walk is great habit to establish if you can. https://nutritionfacts.org/2011/09/12/dr-gregers-2011-optimum-nutrition-recommendations/




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      1. Wow! this is very helpful thank you. I’m very lean and a surfer so exercise is more than just a chore its part of my lifestyle. Thank you!




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      2. I was an athlete back in the day… and had the same issue for a brief time as did some of the other young women I trained with. It was the start of a hormonal imbalance that would haunt me for decades. After I got rid of the amenorrhea, I had dysmenorrhea for many, many year. I also had a penchant for dairy products at the time, which probably caused a lot of it but nobody knew about it at the time. Doctors were totally clueless about it back then and prescribed codeine and morphine, which I refused to take because I still couldn’t function on them (they pretty much knocked me out). One doctor put me on the pill, which I only did for a year. I could function on the pill, but I didn’t like they way it made me feel. I finally discovered ibuprofen, which worked as long as I took it in time. It’s a blood thinner, but I could deal with that.

        Lex, I’m not saying that what happened to me will happen to you. I used dairy to get my weight back up because back then no one knew any better. I’m just trying to help you understand that it’s really important for you to get your hormones back into balance. You can fix one problem only to have another pop up in it’s place. I’m imploring you to consult a doctor (as Lisa suggested) because you really shouldn’t be messing around with this on your own. I wish that I had been able to consult a doctor who a) understood what I was going through, & b) knew how to fix it. It would have saved me a lot of pain & aggravation.




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    2. Hi Lex,

      Thanks for being part of our community! I am a volunteer moderator who helps Dr. G. answer questions posted to our site. I am also a plant based clinical dietitian nutritionist located in Scottsdale, AZ. I believe you are on to the solution to your problem when you write: ” I recognize that for most of this past year I’ve had a fixation on calories and absolutely caused this problem to myself.” If a client with the same story presented themselves to me for an assessment, I would want to know MUCH more about them before offering an opinion or a diagnosis. Some of what you write and your medical symptoms (irregular periods, cessation of periods that return with increased caloric intake, overly zealous calorie counting) would lead me to suspect some type of disordered eating diagnosis. I would want to talk about what you eat, when you eat it, your understanding of your calorie requirements, food groups you don’t eat (and why), sources of stress, stress management practices, family history, history of disordered eating in the family, drug, alcohol or other types of substance overuse, etc. A problem for a plant based eater is if you go to see a dietitian or therapist who specializes in eating disorders (which would be my recommendation) very few will “permit” a client to be a vegan (it is seen as an eating disorder by the traditionally trained community). My colleague Dr. Jon Sheline refers people who would benefit from a medical screening or have medical questions to these great resources:

      To find someone trained in plant-based nutrition, you can try one of these websites:
      PlantBasedDoctors.org, or
      VegDocs.com
      OR, there is a website where you can pay a monthly fee (I think $34/month) to get unlimited on-line/telephone access to a plant-based nutritionist:
      Lighter.World.

      I recommend a medical evaluation/screening from a vegan or vegan friendly health professional.

      Best of luck to you! And thanks again for your question.

      Lisa Schmidt, MS, CN
      Mindful Benefits
      Scottsdale, Arizona




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      1. Thank you Lisa,

        Yes I do/have had a recent struggle with disordered eating spurred by some emotional personal trauma and a need to establish a sense of control and order in my life. It probably falls under the recently dubbed “orthorexia” catagory. When this happened for the first time, symptoms were much more severe (high levels of anxiety coupled with irregular heart rhythms) and I did go to a medical professional but as you intimated, he was unimpressed to hear I kept a vegan diet and essentially believed that to be my disordered eating. I of course knew that to be false and that I had a lot more going on subconsciously so I did not return to see him. I know disordered eating is not readily or quickly “fixed” but the difference this time is that I am consciously aiming to meet full caloric needs this time but I am traveling in undeveloped parts of many countries with very limited access to things like flax, chia, even good avocados or healthy food options at all, and it is not a problem now of mental control over what I am eating but gaining access to enough calories. The real change is that I am a LOT more athletic as a result of me becoming an increasingly avid surfer. This is really why the problem cropped back up this time as I do feel at least mostly, that I have a MUCH more healthy mentality in regards to my food. When I surf I burn through SO many more calories than I think I realized or accounted for and as a result have lost much more weight than is healthy. So I guess I really am looking for ways to keep doing what I love but gain and then maintain my weight. It sounds as though the things I am doing will pay off I just wanted to bounce these off someone from the english speaking medical community as I am presently living in a small Ecuadorian pueblo with no doctor. Thanks very much for your detaied response and you are right about a disordered eating diagnosis. No denial here haha but I am serious about helping myself. Thanks again




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      2. Lisa and Lex,
        You can also do phone consults with Dr. Michael Klapper (well-known plant-based physician) and Joel Fuhrman, M.D. for a fee. As well you can also do a psychological meeting, if that’s helpful, with Doug Lisle, Ph.D., who works with Truth North group as well as John McDougall, M.D. Just google them and go to their website.
        Another idea would be to do a free consult with True North – they are a medical fasting center technically, but a part of their program, when coming off the fast, is to teach people how to eat. Perhaps you could skip the fasting part and just go to the eating part. Since your first call to them for consult is free it might be worth giving them a holler and see what they say.

        Best –




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    3. Hi Lex,

      I lost my period for 3 years in my late teens/early twenties. I think the primary reason was that I was in a lot of emotional pain from a bad breakup. But to help keep myself going, I did count/restrict calories although my weight and exercise patterns stayed at the healthy levels they are today. Without changing any dietary (vegetarian) or exercise patterns my periods returned within 2 weeks of meeting my husband-to-be. I think that the emotional reasons for amenorrhea are totally underrated. So definitely take a look at if you feel relaxed, content and sexual or rigid, tense and unsociable.




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      1. Wow thanks Julie. You’re right, there are emotional stressors that I’m most likely underplaying. The time my period returned before coincided with a new love interest too




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    4. I wouldn’t worry about exercise, it’s very healthy for us, just don’t obsessively overtrain which I realize can be a problem for some. It’s ok to have fewer periods. In one of his videos, it’s mentioned that women on plant based diets might have longer periods but fewer throughout their lives. Just make sure you’re eating a well balanced WFPB diet and that you’re eating enough. Calories truly do not matter. Plant calories vs. calories from other things such as animal products or refined junk foods like oreos, for example, act entirely different. To get enough fat, I’d take 2 tbsp of ground flax everyday as Dr. Greger recommends in at least one video/article here and in a lecture of his, and I wouldn’t worry about fats from whole plant sources, just eat till you’re satisfied and make sure you’re getting enough and a variety.
      I’m not an M.D or anything, but thought I’d throw in my two cents. Over worrying can be detrimental as it can cause a great deal of stress which is extremely harmful to us.




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  2. My limited experiences with nursing homes (not as a patient) are:

    * some of the people in nursing homes are psychiatric patients…usually drugged to the hilt as per usual. The rest end up homeless or in prison?

    * some of the elderly are also drugged…to make life easier for nurses/orderlies

    * food is typical SAD stuff….a few over cooked veggies…over-cooked hamburger on a white bun…milk…cookie…etc. Same stuff they feed kids.

    Looks to be based on housing the max number of people at the least cost. Coming health care changes that involve reducing Medicaid coverage (covers nursing home stays for many people) will likely make things worse.

    It’s all about making/saving money and making things look good to the casual observer? Nobody screaming or acting up and fairly clean…can’t beat that.

    I didn’t get to look in the back rooms to see if anyone was being tied up and tortured. ;-) Guess they use drugs for this….




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    1. Fred: We had to put one of my parents in a nursing home for a few weeks after an accident. This was one of the top rated facilities in our local are, but the food was still the typical SAD stuff just as you mentioned – white bread, bacon & eggs, mac & cheese, hamburgers, cooked-to-death vegetables, canned fruit. It was appalling. I had to bring decent food in every day. I also noticed a lot of drugged patients, many of them had dementia or Alzheimer’s. The staff kept pushing opioids on my mother even though she made it abundantly clear that she no longer wanted or needed them anymore.




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  3. This is really nice to know. I am a cancer survivor & had chemo. I have lingering chemo brain (I think?!), and plan to start defusing & applying lemon balm & other essential oils & see if it helps! Doterra’s Awake & Energize formulas help me wake up & have better energy when the afternoon slumps comes on, so why not this too! Certainly can’t hurt & is very enjoyable . Thanks as always for your insight.




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  4. Hi, thank you for your review of lemon balm essential oil and potential effects on dementia. I was not able to find any recommendations for dosing level in the study of rubbing lemon balm. Would you please help me out and identify the does they used twice daily? If it can’t hurt then why not try! TIA!




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    1. Lemon balm is as easy to grow as anything, being in the mint family, and it finds its way all over the yard, here and there. In summer you could simply rub the leaves under your nose. You could also harvest and dry it or make your own infused oils.




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          1. Some body needs to check out sage…when camping in the west I usually started the morning by sniffing some crushed sage leaves…when in the right location.

            Also got into looking for resin from pine and cedar trees….if you found the right tree and the dried resin when it had dried…it was a heavenly sniff. Some incenses are taken from pines/cedars I believe.




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    2. Hi Melissa, my name is Dr Renae Thomas and I am one of the medical moderators. This study – http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1479-8301.2009.00299.x/full used diffusers and states the following quantities for exposure-
      “During the 28 days of aromatherapy, patients were exposed to the aroma of 0.04 mL lemon and 0.08 mL rosemary essential oil in the morning from 0900 to 1100 hours and to 0.08 mL lavender and 0.04 mL orange essential oils in the evening from 1930 to 2100 hours.”

      The rubbing study was behind a paywall so I couldn’t see the full text, however perhaps start with the amount above, and increase as tolerated?

      Hope this helps!




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  5. Not for the first time, an interesting NF report is tarnished by a misleading headline. No comparison is offered of the relative efficacy of different essential oils in treating dementia symptoms, as the headline would imply. The first cited study used rosemary, lemon, lavender, & orange oils but made no distinction between them; the second used only lemon balm (melissa) oil. While lavender oil seems especially popular for dementia patients (see here and here), an Alzheimers.net article lists peppermint, rosemary, bergamot, ylang ylang, and ginger oils as also helpful for AD symptoms.

    Persuasive evidence of their efficacy may prove elusive. A 2014 Cochrane Database review opined that “the benefits of aromatherapy for people with dementia are equivocal from the seven trials included in this review,” citing methodological difficulties, and called for “more well-designed, large scale randomized control trials.” For the reason Dr G cited, I’m not holding my breath.




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  6. In linking today’s post “Best Aroma Therapy for Alzheimer’s” to the one of June 6, “Using a Smell Test to diagnose Alzheimer’s”, I feel compelled to think that “where there is smoke, there could be fire”. To me, it is an interesting consideration that if the loss of sense of smell is an early indicator of AD, then stimulating the oil factory nerves by way of aroma therapy (be it lemon balm or any other herb) to possibly prevent rapid progression of AD could be justified (the underlying theory being “if you don’ t use it, you lose it).




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  7. Thank you Dr. Greger. This is very interesting information. Perhaps we can experiment on ourselves and post back findings?! Happy days to everyone!




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  8. I literally threw out my oil diffuser the night before this video came out. I fished it out of the trash when I got home from work last night.
    Thank you Dr. G!




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  9. Nature is so cool. Was lemon balm the only one tested for this? And what about consumption of lemon balm e.g. lemon balm tea? That would be really interesting.

    It would be nice if as a society we were evolved to the point where the world was focused on helping each other and working with nature and studying things for the science and for the potential to help each other instead of being driven by money and how someone can exploit the findings for personal gain.




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    1. To that I’d like to add, thank you Dr. Greger for dedicating your life to truly helping people and shedding light on the truth which most of the world would otherwise not see. Hippocrates would be proud of you!




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  10. My name is Roland Leger. I’m a medical doctor practicing family medicine since 1982 in the city Ottawa, Canada. I have read “How not to die” by Dr Michael Greger and “The Plant Paradox” by Dr Steven Gundry. On the subject of “whole grain” the 2 books contradict each other. This can be very confusing for any patients. I was wondering if Dr Michael Greger and Dr Steven Gundry ever meet and talked about “whole grain” and if they could come to an agreement on that specific subject??




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  11. My husband has had a couple of mini-strokes. He shows no signs of dementia so far and I would like to know how to administer the essential oils you said (Rosemary, lemon, lavender and orange) in an effort to prevent dementia and to replace lost brain cells.




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    1. In that study* they did the following:
      “During the 28 days of aromatherapy, patients
      were exposed to the aroma of [one drop] lemon and
      [two drops] rosemary essential oil in the morning from
      0900 to 1100 hours and to [two drops] lavender and
      [one drop] orange essential oils in the evening from
      1930 to 2100 hours. The oils were placed on a piece
      of gauze in diffusers with an electric fan.”

      * Effect of aromatherapy on patients with Alzheimer’s disease. Psychogeriatrics. 2009 Dec;9(4):173-9.




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      1. I ordered some SpaRoom diffusers from Bed Bath and Beyond. They are motorized but do not use moisture. Does this matter?

        Thanks.

        Fran




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  12. Perhaps Coconut Oil is much more effective for feeding brain cells (ketones) when the other mechanism becomes less effective. “An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure”.




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  13. Hello, I live in Russia, I do not speak English, but I use an online translator and I really need an answer from a vegan doctor. Tell me please, can vegan food help get rid of this disease – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corticobasal_degeneration
    How long does it take to eat as a vegan, if the patient is an elderly woman and the symptoms of the disease appeared 8 years ago (now she can not move herself and the disease progresses)?
    Please send me an answer by e-mail – kino-love@yandex.ru




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  14. I find this so interesting because my husband has cognitive disfunction which is getting worse. My question is will aromatherapy therapy work with a person who has lost his since of smell?




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