25th February 2014 by Christian Elliott
Some interesting work being done by the Salk Institute for Biological Studies with organic compounds that appear to provide some protection against memory loss associated with Alzheimer’s and dementia.
The Salk researchers applied flavonols, a type of chemical with strong anti-oxidant properties found in many fruits and vegetables, to a mouse model that mimics symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.
The results showed that adding a type of flavonol (fisetin) to the diet of mice genetically engineered to have Alzheimer’s symptoms allowed these mice to perform as well as their normal counterparts on water maze tests (a classic lab test for learning and memory).
Another important finding was that adding flavonol to the diet of mice prone to Alzheimer’s did not eliminate the presence of amyloid beta deposits in the brain, even though memory performance improved. This second finding adds further to evidence that the amyloid hypothesis for AD is probably wrong.
The Salk Institute work broadens out alternative methods for preventing Alzheimer’s and dementia, and also points to a growing market for “medical grade” diet and food choices.
See also: When Memory Loss Isn’t Alzheimer’s or Dementia: Vitamin B Deficiencies
25th January 2014 by Christian Elliott
In a study destined to generate some controversy, researchers at Brown University and Banner Alzheimer’s Institute have identified significant differences in the brain scans of babies (ages 2 months to 25 months), based on their APOE4 gene status, a known risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease.
A total of 162 sleeping babies underwent MRI brain scans that recorded brain development markers – white matter myelin water fraction (MWF) and gray matter volume (GMV) in several brain regions.
The results showed that the infants who were APOE4 carriers had lower MWF and GMV readings in brain areas affected by Alzheimer’s, compared to infants that did not have the APOE4 gene type.
So does this study predict which infants will develop Alzheimer’s disease later in life as adults? No, of course not.
But it does raise some very interesting issues on the interplay between genetic risk factors (the copies of genes you receive from your parents), and environmental risk factors (access to education, diet & exercise choices, concussion history, etc).
The Brown University study moves us towards a “lifespan” view of neurological diseases – that based on the human genetic lottery, a particular person’s brain simply may be more vulnerable to brain diseases during his or her lifetime.
The challenge (and opportunity), then becomes to identify the most useful interventions (both pharmacological and lifestyle) that can improve brain health, using personal genome information to guide choices along the way.
The next decade will be very interesting on this front!
See also: Brain Health Primer: Four Ways to Maintain Your Brain
See also: Take the Healthy Brain Test
22nd January 2014 by Christian Elliott
Take a pass on that third glass of wine (or beer, or liquor) if you want to keep your memory and cognitive health in good shape as you age into your golden years.
That’s the message from a study on alcohol consumption and brain health, published in the journal Neurology.
The study tracked over 7,000 people (average age 56) for a total of 10 years, recording average alcohol consumption for each subject, along with performance on memory and cognitive tests that were administered during the study period.
Researchers divided participants into two groups: Light-Moderate drinkers and Heavy drinkers.
Here’s the important part you need to know: Light-Moderate drinkers consumed 20 grams or less of pure alcohol on a daily basis, equivalent to about 8oz/235ml of wine, or 20oz/585ml of beer – typically a bit less than two drinks.
Heavy drinkers were categorized as consuming at least 36 grams of pure alcohol each day – 3.5 or 4 drinks (or more) every day.
For men in the study, heavy drinkers scored substantially worse on the memory and cognitive health tests during the research period.
An interesting gender difference also appeared in this study: women who abstained from drinking any alcohol showed memory and cognitive decline on test sores compared to women who drank a very light amount of alcohol (about half a glass of wine or beer each day).
This gender difference is probably related to the cardiovascular benefits women enjoy from light alcohol consumption – see this article on how light alcohol use can reduce stroke risk.
Bottom line: Moderation is a virtue, when it comes to alcohol and your brain health!
16th January 2014 by Christian Elliott
Merck announced last month that it is moving ahead with MK-8931, an experimental BACE inhibitor drug designed to slow the production of amyloid beta protein in the brain, one of the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease.
Beta secretase (BACE) inhibitors work by interfering with the process that creates amyloid beta protein in the first place, in the theory that halting production of amyloid beta will vastly reduce the chances of Alzheimer’s disease.
Patient safety in Merck’s Phase 2 & 3 clinical trials should be closely monitored. In addition to controlling the formation of amyloid beta protein in the brain, BACE is also involved in the development of myelin sheathes — the “insulation” surrounding the long axons of nerves throughout the human body.
The possibility of serious unintended consequences can happen when drugs tinker with a basic process that controls several important functions, in addition to the one it happens to target, in this case halting the process of amyloid beta production.
Another unanswered question is whether amyloid beta toxicity in the brain is the actual cause of Alzheimer’s disease, or if it is simply a robust biomarker (or evidence trail) of disease progression.
Stay tuned for updates on Alzheimer’s drug trial progress.
13th January 2014 by admin
We are adding the Self Administered Gerocognitive Exam (SAGE) test to the list of validated cognitive screening instruments that can be administered in pen and paper format.
The 15 minute SAGE test, used to screen for early signs of Alzheimer’s and dementia, was developed and validated by a research team at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
SAGE test components include orientation (month + date + year); language (verbal fluency + picture naming); reasoning/computation (abstraction + calculation); visuospatial (three-dimensional construction + clock drawing); executive (problem solving) and memory abilities.
The SAGE test form and scoring instructions can be downloaded here.