Category Archives: Alzheimers/Dementia

Brain Inflammation & Alzheimer’s

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A current article, published on this year’s solstice (21 Dec), has excited Alzheimer’s researchers about the possibility of a refinement of the line of attack on the disease. The deposit of amyloid plaques is widely regarded as the core cause of the death of masses of brain neurons, the direct cause of Alzheimer’s symptoms. Most drug development efforts have targeted removal of the plaques, and almost all have failed (see The hard truth about Alzheimer’s drugs, link filed in Treatment > Drugs). The only one with any promise is Aducanumab, which only seems to have value if taken in very early stages of Alzheimer’s, and will be hugely expensive (see the article at end).

Besides the development of amyloid plaques, tangles of tau proteins inside the neurons, together with signs of activated/irritated immune cells called microglia are also found extensively in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. The activated/irritated microglia can be caused by such things as a mild injury or a virus, and are also provoked by the deposit of amyloid. The newly published paper suggests that there may be an interaction or even feedback loop between deposit of amyloid and the irritated microglia. A key part of the process is the formation inside the microglia of a protein complex called an inflammasome. This complex both signals to other microglia to provoke further inflammation, but also releases specks of a protein called ASC. These specks appear to act as seeds for further deposit of amyloid, and the resulting amyloid plaques have ASC specks at their core. The first media article below compares this to the “grit inside a pearl”.

The research was mostly carried out on mice, though examining the brains of deceased Alzheimer’s patients showed substantial amounts of amyloid plaque containing ASC specs at core. In parts of the mice experiments, it was shown that presence or absence of ASC affected the generation of amyloid, and in other parts of the experiments, it was shown that when antibodies to ASC were injected, it interfered with the seeding effect for amyloid by ASC.

Thus, attacking inflammation and the action of ASC now seems like a promising way forward.

Here are two media articles about the study:

Brain inflammation sows the seeds of Alzheimer’s
Do Microglia Spread Aβ Plaques?

Here is the original study article:
Microglia-derived ASC specks cross-seed amyloid-β in Alzheimer’s disease

All three of these links have been added to Alzheimers > Neurology & Neuroplasticity

And here is an article about the drug Aducanumab (link added to Treatment > Drugs):
Robert Chen, MD-PhD candidate in Alzheimer’s research: What were the key findings from the Aducanumab phase 1 clinical trials? [Reprinted as: Aducanumab Is Showing Promise As An Alzheimer’s Treatment, But It’s Still Early]

Mediterranean/MIND Diet Seriously Fights Alzheimer’s/Dementia

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Striking findings from two large-scale studies and two smaller studies show that following the Mediterranean diet or the related MIND diet can reduce the risk of dementia by one-third! The studies were reported at the recent 2017 Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in London.

The first study (Neuroprotective Diets …. abstract, full text) looked at the eating habits of almost 6,000 older adults (average age of 68) enrolled in the Health and Retirement Study, sponsored by the U.S. National Institute on Aging. The study is representative of the total US population, and as such, the results are widely applicable to the general public. Specifically, following the Mediterranean or MIND diet in general leads to 30%–35% lower risk of cognitive impairment during aging. Especially notable is the fact that the benefits appear to be a ‘sliding scale:’ “The more people stayed on those diets, the better they functioned cognitively,” said lead researcher Claire McEvoy.

The second study (The Mind Diet and Incident Dementia, Findings from the Women’s Health Initiative Memory Study; sponsored by National Institutes on Aging) examined the MIND diet’s effectiveness for more than 7,000 women. Similar to the first study, women closely following the MIND guidelines were 34% less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease, while those moderately following the guidelines were 21%–24% less likely to develop Alzheimer’s.

An important observation is that these diets were originally developed to help improve cardiovascular health. Thus, following these diets will provide potential protection for both brain and heart health.

The third study (from Sweden: Which Dietary Index May Predict Preserved Cognitive Function in Nordic Older Adults?) enrolled more than 2,000 people and found that those eating a healthy diet called the Nordic Prudent Dietary Pattern (a diet related to the Mediterranean and MIND diets) for more than six years experienced better brain health.

The fourth study looked at the problem in the opposite direction. It looked at 330 people (average age 80) who followed a dietary pattern encouraging inflammation (so a diet “opposite” to the Mediterranean/MIND diets). These people performed poorly on brain games, and MRI scans showed that they also had a smaller total volume of brain gray matter. So this study negatively corroborates the outcomes of the first 3 studies.

Here is the Alzheimer’s Association Press Release about the four studies:
Healthy Eating Habits May Preserve Cognitive Function And Reduce The Risk Of Dementia

And here are several media stories about the presentations:
Mediterranean style diet may prevent dementia
Mediterranean-style diet linked to lower risk of dementia
Fight Dementia With Food: Following A Mediterranean Diet May Improve Brain Health, Studies Suggest
A Healthy Diet May Help Ward Off Dementia
Could the Mediterranean Diet Help Fight Dementia? Here’s What We Know

All the links have been added to Health > Diet

Evolution, Genetics, and Alzheimer’s

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Numerous trials have been run hoping to develop and validate drugs which would either slow, stop, or reverse the development of Alzheimer’s in humans. Yet over several decades none have succeeded. Almost all of these attempts have been based on the “amyloid hypothesis”, and consequently, some researchers have started looking in new directions.

One exciting such new direction involves mitochondrial DNA, which we inherit from our mothers, but not our fathers. This difference might account for the fact that people whose family history showed Alzheimer’s on their mother’s side were more likely to get Alzheimer’s than people whose family history only showed Alzheimer’s on the father’s side. So various mitochondrial diseases and failures could be genetically responsible for the development of Alzheimer’s in the brain.

It is widely regarded that most non-human primates do not exhibit Alzheimer’s, although they exhibit related symptoms and brain changes. The new study focused on the idea that thus, Alzheimer’s ought to have come about in human beings due to some evolutionarily recent change in our brains setting us apart from existing primate species. The study focused on one such change, the development of “retrotransposons”, or so-called “jumping genes”.

An excellent extended exposition of this work is available at
When copy-paste attacks: A possible answer to the mystery of Alzheimer’s disease

Another article about the work is
‘Jumping genes’ may set the stage for brain cell death in Alzheimer’s, other diseases

The research publication itself is at
The Alu neurodegeneration hypothesis: A primate-specific mechanism for neuronal transcription noise, mitochondrial dysfunction, and manifestation of neurodegenerative disease

Links to the articles and the research publication have been posted in Alzheimers > Risk Factors > Genetics.

Dementia: Hope & Despair for Patient & Caregiver

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Dasha Kiper has written a remarkable long piece about her year plus caring for a dementia patient. A shorter form was published as The deviousness of dementia while the longer version appeared as

Hope Is the Enemy: Caring for a patient suffering from dementia means coming to terms with the frustrating paradoxes of memory and language.

 
Links to both versions have been posted on Strong Brain in both
Alzheimers > Caregivers and Alzheimers > Coping Stories

Five New Links on Risk Factors for Alzheimer’s

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Five links were added in:

Alzheimers > Risk Factors

Here are the new links:
Type 2 diabetes linked with reduced cognitive function     …shown that people with diabetes have abnormal blood flow regulation in the brain, namely impaired ability to increase blood flow and deliver sugar and oxygen to the brain during episodes of increased mental activity

High Blood Sugar May Boost Alzheimer’s Risk     Insulin resistance can inhibit signaling between brain cells and affect memory…

Too much TV could raise the risk of Alzheimer’s, study suggests     It turns out that too much TV might damage your brain and also raise the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease…

Survey: Risk Factors     The most important risk factors—age, family history and heredity—can’t be changed, but emerging evidence suggests there may be other factors we can influence.

Infection Inflicts A Persistent Decrease In IQ: A Danish Study With 180,000 Participants     A recent danish study … showed that infections can impair cognitive ability

Coffee On A Roll: 2 New Links

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We’ve added two more links reporting positive studies concerning coffee and cognitive function, in:

Alzheimers > Amelioration > Caffine

Here are the new links:

Coffee Consumption Habits Impact the Risk of Mild Cognitive Impairment: The Italian Longitudinal Study on Aging     A new study… estimates the association between change or constant habits in coffee consumption and the incidence of mild cognitive impairment (MCI)…

Drinking Coffee May Delay Alzheimer’s Disease     Study Adds to Growing List of Health Benefits Associated With Coffee