June is National Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia Awareness Month. I will be having a number of postings on related news this month, and the good news is there is, in fact, good news on a number of fronts.
Most of us have heard of the importance of using imaging of brains to identify the telltale beta-amyloid deposits and plaque in the brain for earlier diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, are suggesting that Alzheimer’s protein tau may be a better biomarker of the disease than even beta-amyloid. Everyone develops protein tau in their brains as a normal part of the aging process. But these researchers have shown that it is not whether one develops protein tau, but where one shows it. When the protein spreads to the lateral temporal areas or into the parietal region, that is the trigger for Alzheimer’s symptoms. It also is when only mild cognitive impairment has begun to surface, and that early warning may work hand in hand with one other piece of promising news…actual treatment to stave off the progression of the disease.
You may recall an earlier posting in which I discussed the brain’s response to excessive carbohydrate consumption as being “type 3 diabetes.” Qian Shi, a doctoral candidate at Tulane University, is analyzing Veteran’s Affairs data in a retrospective longitudinal study of neurodegenerative disease. Ms. Shi is reporting preliminary findings that link metformin use with a substantial reduction in neurodegenerative disease. Metformin appears to be having a similar effect on type 3 diabetes as it has had historically on type 2 diabetes. It reduces the inflammation that negatively affects both the pancreas and the brain.
Until very recently, most research has found little support for the benefits of nutritional supplements or nutraceuticals in either preventing or slowing the progression of neurodegenerative diseases. But Jennifer Lemon, a research associate in the Department of Medical Physics and Applied Radiation Sciences at McMaster University in Canada, has conducted controlled studies using laboratory mice that show real promise. (Note: Animal studies, such as those using mice, are almost always the first step toward research that will move to human subjects later, and virtually all mammal brain functions are similar metabolically.) Dr. Lemon gave a mix of vitamins and minerals, along with nutraceuticals, such as beta carotene, bioflavonoids, cod liver oil, flax seed, garlic, and green tea extract to one group of mice. Relative to other mice receiving no nutraceuticals, the treated mice maintained better brain cell numbers and mass and cognitive function over the duration of the study. The treated mice seemed also to preserve their sight and sense of smell, two capabilities associated with neurodegenerative decline. Much research remains to be done, but we ought not be too hasty in giving up on the supplements you can purchase at the corner health food store.
Charlotte Bishop is an Aging Life Care Professional and a Geriatric Care Manager and founder of Creative Care Management, certified professionals who are geriatric advocates, resources, counselors and friends to older adults and their families in metropolitan Chicago. Please email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.