Tag Archives: alzheimer’s disease

Research Links Mild Cognitive Impairment to Alzheimer’s Disease

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Over 5 million people age 65 and older are living with Alzheimer’s disease — the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S. AD is a neurological condition that is marked by progressive worsening of memory loss and increasing loss of one’s ability to carry out activities of daily living.

The hallmark signs of Alzheimer’s disease are plaques and tangles. Beta-amyloid plaques are deposits of sticky proteins in the brain that clump together and interrupt the communication between neurons (nerve cells). Neurofibrillary tangles are modifications in tau, a brain protein.

These proteins damage microtubules that are responsible for the transportation of material along neuronal extensions called neurites that allow nerve cells to communicate with each other. The more plaques and tangles build up, the more pronounced an individual’s memory and cognitive deficits become.

But not every instance of forgetfulness is indicative of early AD. The brain ages just like every other organ. So as we get older, we may experience problems like remembering where we’ve placed our keys or recalling what a person’s name is. Forgetfulness is a part of getting older and is attributed to the fact that as we age brain size become smaller, inflammation and free radicals damage is increased, blood flow is reduced, and plaques and tangles are formed.

So what’s the difference between changes in the brain of a normal, aging person and someone with AD? Changes like plaques, tangles, and inflammation become worse over time and irreversibly destroy memory and cognition.

Distinguishing between signs of forgetfulness that are normal or are associated with AD have been assessed through tests like the Mini-Mental Status Exam that helps to track memory and cognitive changes in older adults. But researchers have also been exploring new ways to identify AD. Studies show that a type of mild cognitive impairment (MCI) may be a harbinger of AD.

There are many subtypes of MCI. One that has been studied and linked to the development of Alzheimer’s disease is called amnestic mild cognitive impairment (aMCI). Memory loss is the most prominent feature of aMCI. People with aMCI have been shown to progress to AD more than those without aMCI.

In one study, researchers evaluated the brain tissue of people who were diagnosed with aMCI and found that more than 70 percent of those individuals progressed to Alzheimer’s disease.

Data from a different study used MRI to identify atrophy in the hippocampus and entorhinal cortex (temporal lobe structures responsible for making and storing memories) of people with aMCI and healthy brains over a five-year period. Among those with smaller temporal lobe structures, the progression to AD was shorter.

These studies provide useful insights that may help to shape and improve the way in which AD is detected and treated. While there are drugs that are prescribed to treat AD, there is still no cure.

In my new book, The Gene Therapy Plan, I provide information on ways to promote healthy aging, namely through a wholesome diet. To avoid premature aging and to bolster brain health, skip the processed foods and consume plenty of whole foods. By eating whole foods like fruits and vegetables, herbs and spices, the body is able to obtain optimal nutrition to bolster healthy metabolism and produce lots of energy.

Photo credit: CDC/Dawn Arlotta/Cade Martin

References:

Jicha, Gregory A., Joseph E. Parisi, Dennis W. Dickson, Kris Johnson, Ruth Cha, Robert J. Ivnik, Eric G. Tangalos et al. “Neuropathologic outcome of mild cognitive impairment following progression to clinical dementia.” Archives of Neurology 63, no. 5 (2006): 674-681.

Devanand, D. P., G. Pradhaban, X. Liu, A. Khandji, S. De Santi, S. Segal, H. Rusinek et al. “Hippocampal and entorhinal atrophy in mild cognitive impairment Prediction of Alzheimer disease.” Neurology 68, no. 11 (2007): 828-836.

Omega-3 Fats Targets Inflammation in Alzheimer’s Disease

Omega-3 Supplements and Fish

Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is the sixth cause of deaths in United States. It is a debilitating, irreversible, progressive neurodegenerative disease that develops mainly in older adults (a rare type that has a genetic component may develop in people as young as 30 years old). Alzheimer’s disease slowly affects cognitive functioning from early signs such as forgetfulness to more progress of signs, such as being unable to carry out any activities of daily living without the help of others.

It is a complex brain disease, and the etiology remains largely a mystery; however, we know that the environment, genetics, and lifestyle factors have all been implicated as risk factors in Alzheimer’s disease. Amyloid-beta plaques in the brain, however, are the hallmark sign of AD. The plaques are formed because of the buildup of amyloid beta proteins that destroy brain cells. You may be wondering why these plaques are allowed to form in the first place. The body should have a cleanup crew to remove harmful molecules.  And, in fact, it does! When tissue injury occurs, an acute inflammatory process recruits mediators, which responds to the localized tissue problem and gobbles up abnormal cells. Then specialized cells enter the area to remove the debris left after an inflammatory response—a step called the resolution pathway. This pathway consists of various classes of mediators involved in removing dead tissue, as well as molecules involved in inflammation. A recent study demonstrates that, in Alzheimer’s disease, this resolution pathway becomes dysfunctional.

Karolinska Institute researchers conducted a study in which they analyzed cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) of 15 Alzheimer’s patients, 20 individuals with mild cognitive impairment (MCI), and 21 control subjects; they also examined the postmortem hippocampal brain tissue of 10 Alzheimer’s patients and 10 control subjects.1

The researchers were attempting to identify specialized pro-resolving mediators (SPMs) as well as their receptors to determine if the resolution process of inflammation is downregulated in Alzheimer’s disease patients. The results show mediators associated with the resolution pathway (i.e., SPMs and SPM receptors) were found in the brain, which indicate that the brain is equipped with the capacity to restore itself post-inflammation. They also found that levels of a specific resolution pathway mediator was reduced in the CSF and postmortem brain tissue of AD patients—suggesting that the resolution process in the brain becomes dysfunctional in Alzheimer’s disease.

The study offers exciting, new insights into novel therapies that can target pathways to prevent and treat Alzheimer’s disease. When studies such as this are published, researchers work toward developing and testing potential therapies that pinpoint the mechanism involved, in this case treatments would be targeting the resolution pathway. One way would be to stimulate the pathway by developing studies in which SPM treatments are used; another option would be to explore the effects of omega-3 fatty acid supplementation on the SPM pathway.

Omega-3 fatty acid derivatives have been shown to stimulate the resolution process of inflammation. Besides being a healthy fat that has been shown to reduce inflammation, omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to reduce the risk for various diseases such as cancer, arthritis, and heart disease. Omega-3s are highly concentrated in the brain and appeared to play a role in memory, cognition, and behavior—three areas that are significantly affected in Alzheimer’s disease.

Inflammation can be linked to practically every disease process. Omega-3 fatty acids work to reduce inflammation and trigger the resolution pathway.  Coldwater fish, such as mackerel and salmon, are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids. Other sources of omega-3 fatty acids include krill and algae. If you choose to use omega-3 fatty acid supplements, look for pharmaceutical-grade products that are free of heavy metals.

Reference:

1.         Wang X, Zhu M, Hjorth E, et al. Resolution of inflammation is altered in Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s & dementia : the Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association. 2014.