I’ve often discussed the fact that research into Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia has increasingly shown how inflammation in the brain wreaks havoc on your memory.
The new attention on brain inflammation has put medical researchers into a fast and furious mode as they try to figure out exactly when and how inflammatory processes damage healthy brain tissue.
One thing researchers know for sure is that if you’re not careful, inflammation can damage your brain before you ever realize it.
According to researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, newly discovered molecules called microparticles released into the brain after a brain injury lead to brain-wide inflammation that destroys neurons.
We shouldn’t be surprised, in light of what we’ve learned about NFL players who have suffered head trauma, and their risk of cognitive decline years later.
The scientists say their new findings may explain how chronic inflammation can spread across the brain, leading to the destruction of brain tissue.
Microparticles Trigger Neuroinflammation
In this study, the immune cells in the brain called microglia released microparticles – technically known as “anucleoid cell membrane vesicles” – in response to a traumatic injury. These microparticles circulated through the bloodstream and the cerebrospinal fluid that bathes the brain.1
These microparticles contain chemical signals that lead other immune cells to gather and cause damaging inflammation that’s toxic to neurons.
If that’s not bad enough, the researchers point out that the neuroinflammation involved with the release of these microparticles can become chronic and continue harming neurons and brain health for years to come.
“These results potentially provide a new conceptual framework for understanding brain inflammation and its relationship to brain cell loss and neurological deficits after head injury, and may be relevant for other neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease in which neuroinflammation may also play a role,” says researcher Alan Faden. “The idea that brain inflammation can trigger more inflammation at a distance through the release of microparticles may offer novel treatment targets for a number of important brain diseases.”
Treating Alzheimer’s Before it Starts
According to researchers in Italy, the best way to deal with Alzheimer’s disease and other brain problems like Parkinson’s may be to treat the disease before it starts. That means stopping the neuroinflammation in the brain long before a patient starts to have memory problems.
These scientists note that the inflammation linked to Alzheimer’s is triggered years before a person developing the disease even notices any cognitive issues.
“Starting an intervention at the earliest stage of the disease, when cellular and molecular alterations have already been triggered but major damage to the brain has not yet occurred, could offer a way to reduce the number of people who go on to develop full Alzheimer’s dementia,” says researcher CaterinaScuderi, who is with Sapienza, University of Rome.
In Dr. Scuderi’s test on animals, a pharmaceutical dose of luteolin – a phytochemical found in celery and green peppers that’s used in traditional Chinese medicine to control inflammation – combined with the fatty acid palmitoylethanolamide (PEA), which is used to control pain, reduced inflammation. Dr. Scuderi believes it’s possible that this natural combination could stave off Alzheimer’s disease.
“Significant Improvement” in Cognition
How successfully this combination can work in people remains to be seen. But in one case study cited by the Italian researchers, a woman with mild cognitive impairment, which is often a precursor to Alzheimer’s, took the combination and saw a delay in the deterioration of her mental faculties.2Or, as the researchers put it, she experienced a “significant improvement of her neuropsychological performances.”
Still, even if this Italian method works, so far there’s no surefire way to know when to start taking this nutritional combination because you should begin when inflammation starts – but that’s almost always before you’re aware of symptoms from neuroinflammation.
Fight Inflammation Everyday
In my opinion, this is just another reason to follow an anti-inflammatory diet and lifestyle from the get-go. Eating a diet rich in fish or lean meat, healthy fats such as olive oil, fruits, vegetables and whole grains– like the Mediterranean diet– is critical to fighting inflammation on a daily basis.
In addition, there are well-known lifestyle habits that generally limit inflammation. What you don’t eat is almost as important as what you do.
For example, limit your intake of sugar and processed foods and your consumption of alcohol. Another thing to avoid is being sedentary– get some exercise! Then, when you’re finished you can reward yourself with a hot bath that also can work wonders against inflammation.
Researchers at Loughborough University in England point out that taking a hot bath raises your body temperature and may produce some of the same anti-inflammatory effects as exercise. But before you get too excited and consider skipping the exercise and jumping into a nice hot bath instead, here’s what you need to know…
In the British study people had to remain in a hot bath at 102 degrees Fahrenheit for an hour– which they didn’t enjoy. But blood tests showed that the hot water immersion reduced the levels of inflammatory markers in the blood.3
While I’m no doctor, I believe you don’t have to torture yourself to get some benefit from a hot bath. A more reasonable, brief warm soak in a bath or hot tub can probably help reduce inflammation as well. At the very least, you’ll relax and that provides a wealth of health benefits all by itself.