Discover more from Writings of BeWise
Healing frequencies, goodbye Alzheimer's!
From esoteric mumbo-jumbo to real science. How frequency stimulation can help with Alzheimer's treatment.
Try searching on youtube for "healing frequencies". If you do, bizarre videos with even more bizarre titles will come up. For example, a recommended video popped up for me: “528 Hz miracle frequency for nerve healing, DNA repair, nerve and cell regeneration, complete body healing". You might want to try and scroll through a few videos. You will find all sorts of frequencies with kitsch animations that supposedly heal DNA, repair cells, and activate the pineal gland. Sounds absurd, right? Exactly the reason, why I was really surprised to learn that the idea of healing frequencies is not as stupid as it might seem.
Oh well, I'm lying a little. Of course, random esoteric frequencies to repair your DNA and activate your pineal gland are, politely, smut. But there are certain types of frequencies, specifically 40 Hz stimulation, that can help with neurodegenerative diseases—Alzheimer’s disease in particular. So let's talk about it...
City noise and brain waves
You've very likely heard of various brainwaves. We know of 5 types of brainwaves - delta, theta, alpha, beta, and gamma - which we divide based on frequency. Delta waves are the waves with the lowest frequency, and gamma waves are the waves with the highest frequency. Brain frequencies are a kind of signature of the communication of specific centers with a particular task. We can think of it as a large country with multiple cities. Some might be connected by two-lane roads, others by wide highways. All as a result of different communication needs.
If you had a big microphone, you could tell the different highways and roads apart based on the noise from the cars. You would find that some cities are connected by massive highways with a characteristically loud noise. Other cities would be connected only by narrow roads, where car noise would only be intermittent. We can push the analogy a little further. If you listen carefully, you might notice that the roads aren’t always noisy in the same way. When people go to work in the morning, the noise is most intense, and shortly after lunch, the noise is quietest. So by listening to the noise, you could roughly tell what is going on in the imaginary landscape. You would associate morning noise with the process of "starting a productive day,” with its characteristic happenings - lots of cars, shopping, maybe some crime, and so on. Conversely, if you heard the noise of trucks in a minor part of city, you might conclude that this noise signifies the process of importation of raw materials from one city to another.
Our brains and our brain networks work similarly. For example, if you listen to your brain with an EEG, different "noise" appears during different activities or states of consciousness. Very simplified, we can say that the more "awake" the brain is, the faster (higher) the frequencies we can record. The slowest delta waves are typically present during sleep. A bit faster theta waves are typical of drowsiness or unconscious states. Following alpha waves are characteristic of a state where we are relaxing but conscious. If we go even higher in frequency, we find beta waves, which occur during normal wakefulness and concentration. And the fastest are gamma waves, characteristic of intense concentration, learning, or thinking.
Just so we don't get the feeling that biology is easy, fast gamma waves are also characteristic of the REM phase of our sleep. This is the sleep phase during which our eyes move very rapidly, and we often have dreams. It is because of the high activity and "noise" of neurons that REM sleep is sometimes referred to as "paradoxical sleep.”
The various oscillations and noises are generated by our neurons communicating with other "cities" in the brain. For example, there can be intense communication between the frontal lobe and the hippocampus when trying to remember or recall something. Below you can see an example of neuronal activity between different centers in the brain of the Danio rerio fish. You can notice that almost none of the activity is the activity of isolated neurons, but we can observe the coordinated activity of multiple neuronal networks.
When fast waves turn into boring slow waves
Brain centers and their communication do not only change depending on an activity, but their overall activity is also subject to characteristic changes during life. As we age, the composition of brain waves changes. For example, there is a usual increase in theta waves in some areas of the brain, which correlates with the cognitive decline typical of aging.
Changes can also be observed in various neurodegenerative diseases. As we have explained, the waves reflect specific brain processes. Thus, it is not surprising that if a neurological disorder is characterized by a decline in cognitive functions such as memory or learning, we find changes in the "noise" representing these functions. For example, the very intensively studied Alzheimer's disease is characterized by neurodegeneration in the hippocampus, which is the center of short-term memory. Neuronal death moves over time from the hippocampus to the cerebral cortex, at which point cognition deteriorates rapidly. Communication between the hippocampus and the cerebral cortex is disrupted as neurons die. The result is the typical change in the "noise" profile of the highways. Highways are damaged, and cars have to slow down, honking at each other and causing collisions. The occurrence of the faster alpha, beta, and gamma frequencies in some regions decreases significantly, and the occurrence of slower delta and theta oscillations increases.
However, to understand how we can treat the brain with frequencies, we must now abandon the analogy of highways and cities. We replace them with rivers that connect island cities. Instead of different types of roads, we will have different kinds of rivers with ships traveling their waves. The waves are generated by devices in the city that dispatches the ships. In the case of aging or neurodegenerative disease, the devices wear out over time and cannot generate waves as efficiently as before. So the ships don't travel as they should, and the centers in the brain don't communicate with each other. Theoretically, however, if we could get the river moving and create waves by outside intervention in the city, we could correct the lack of wave generation. But how do we intervene?
Healing gamma frequencies
You may have seen a warning on a YouTube video that the video contains flickering elements and should not be watched by people with epilepsy. These warnings illustrate that brains are not isolated entities in the universe. Information enters through our eyes, ears, or sense of touch and is processed by the brain through the activity of neurons. If we are looking at something, the object in front of us is necessarily created by specific brain activity. Thus, if we observe a flashing light, to see flashing light, our neurons must also "flash" at a similar frequency. And this is precisely the way we can intervene from the outside and help neurons create waves to communicate between centers.
This approach has been intensively studied in recent years, particularly in the context of Alzheimer's disease therapy. And the most exciting candidate of the plethora of frequencies is the fast 40 Hz gamma frequencies, present during intense concentration and thinking. Processes that are significantly impaired in Alzheimer's disease patients.
So the idea is simple: take a flashing light or sound with a frequency of 40 Hz and stimulate Alzheimer's patients regularly. The stimulation creates waves in the specific rivers needed for the affected brain functions, and the patient benefits from improvements in memory, attention, or other cognitive abilities.
In recent years, some promising results have emerged that suggest this could work. Studies have shown that auditory or visual gamma stimulation can entrain the brain's gamma frequencies in the auditory or visual centers. These waves can sometimes propagate to the hippocampus and the frontal lobe. Just as a reminder, these areas are significantly affected by Alzheimer's disease and explain many typical symptoms of Alzheimer's, such as memory loss.
Stimulation using gamma frequencies in mice with neurodegeneration led to an improvement in the mice's ability to orient in space and to improve memory. Both processes are very closely associated with the activity of the hippocampus. But it didn't stop here. Stimulation equally resulted in the suppression of neurodegeneration, suppression of neuroinflammation, and affected the activity of genes that are responsible for making connections in the brain (Adaikkan et al. 2019).
Similarly exciting are the experiments where researchers combined gamma stimulation with physical exercise. In addition to the mice behaving healthier and thus showing improvement in tasks testing memory, the brains also looked healthier. For example, there was a significant reduction in waste proteins, which are typically found in Alzheimer's patients and which some believe contribute directly to neuronal death. Gamma stimulation also led to the activation of the production of the BDNF protein, which promotes neuronal survival and the formation of new neuronal connections. Thus, BNDF directly combats neurodegeneration. Interestingly, BDNF also increased in the mouse brain with repeated physical activity, and the highest BDNF levels were observed when gamma stimulation and physical activity were combined (Park et al. 2022).
BDNF (full name Brain-derived neurotropic factor) is one of the best-known biological signatures of rewiring connections in the brain. Its low levels are associated with many diseases affecting our brains, and decreasing of BDNF levels are particularly associated with neurodegeneration or depressive disroder. Increasing BDNF levels, on the other hand, is a signature of healing processes in the brain that fight inflammation and loss of connections. Physical activity has been shown to increase BDNF levels in the body, partly explaining its benefit to our mental health.
The research on mice served as an excellent basis for tests with human volunteers. The first clinical studies on volunteers with Alzheimer's disease bring modest optimism. Some studies have produced evidence of possible benefits for patients in improving sleep and mood. There are also data suggesting increased communication between specific centers in the brain, which could indicate therapeutic potential. Slight improvements in some cognitive abilities have also been found.
However, when the studies looked at biomarkers of Alzheimer's disorder, particularly the aforementioned “waste proteins” that seem to disappear in tests with mice, they found no such decline. The explanation may lie in the length of therapy. Initial trials tried gamma stimulation for only a few weeks, and may need a longer period to reveal a more significant effect.
The importance of long-term stimulation is highlighted by the most recent study from 2022, which studied the effects of regular gamma stimulation after three months on patients with Alzheimer's disorder. Among other things, the researchers found reduced neurodegeneration of the hippocampus, improved communication between some centers, and better performance on memory tasks.
Overall, maybe, we could one day treat neurodegenerative diseases by stimulating brains with the right frequencies. Interestingly, however, we have yet to learn why this all works. Why, at least in mice, stimulation not only helped compensate for neurodegeneration in various cognitive activities but also seemed to help heal the brain? Why did gamma stimulation dampen the inflammation? Why did gamma stimulation stimulate the production of the BDNF protein, which promotes neuronal survival and connection formation? Why did gamma stimulation help the mouse brain get rid of waste proteins? What does gamma stimulation stimulate? This and much more we still need to learn. If we discover that gamma frequencies can help treat Alzheimer's disease, why should we stop here? Depression is also characterized by inflammatory and neurodegenerative processes with typically reduced BDNF levels. Could it work here as well? We'll have to wait for more research on that, though.
You can find the podcast in text form on my subreddit, where you can subscribe. You can support my work on Substack or Patreon; links can be found in the description. New episodes come out every Monday.
Thanks for reading Writings of BeWise ! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work. My texts exist only if there is someone to read them :)