For more than a decade now researchers have tried to “cure” Alzheimer’s disease by clearing away beta amyloid plaques and tau proteins with drugs.
But, as we’ve reported repeatedly in this newsletter, clinical trials on these drug therapies have shown that eliminating the proteins does nothing to improve Alzheimer’s-related memory loss.
Now, researchers point to a new study at the University of Southern California (USC) which may have uncovered the reason why, and revealed a new and better way to prevent– and even treat– Alzheimer’s disease.
The study at USC focused on the development of tau tangles, which are snarled threads of protein that choke the life out of brain cells and wipe out memory as Alzheimer’s disease progresses.
In normal, healthy brains, the protein called tau binds to and stabilizes microtubules, which guide nutrients and signaling molecules to various parts of neurons. But during Alzheimer’s disease, chemical changes take place that result in tau detaching from the microtubules and allowing segments of tau to stick to each other. These sticky structures form tangles within each neuron that gum up the neuronal transport system.1
Amyloid and Tau Don’t Act Alone
Many researchers have believed that as Alzheimer’s progresses, beta amyloid accumulation is the first complication, increasingly clumping between brain cells. Then, at some sort of tipping point, tau tangles form and spread rapidly – collecting in specific brain regions involved in memory. Little by little, cognitive function fades.
But when the USC scientists used lab tests to take a closer look at the buildup of tau, they found that the destructive process accelerates and does its worst damage when blood flow to the brain is simultaneously impaired and restricted.2
The USC analysis concludes that dealing with beta amyloid and tau tangles without improving blood flow to the brain is at least one of the reasons that drug trials for treating Alzheimer’s disease have been doomed to failure.
So, this begs the question, how do you increase blood flow to the aging brain? A study at Cornell might have begun to uncover a solution…
Fading Brains May be Starved for Blood
The Cornell investigation indicates that one vascular problem during Alzheimer’s occurs when white blood cells stick to the insides of capillaries in the brain, blocking essential blood flow. And although the capillaries are the smallest of blood vessels, the Cornell scientists say that the cumulative effect of each impeded vessel leads to a serious lack of blood supply to brain cells.3
“What we’ve done is identify the cellular mechanism that causes reduced brain blood flow in Alzheimer’s disease models, which is neutrophils [white blood cells] sticking in capillaries,” says researcher Chris Schaffer.
Dr. Schaffer believes that coming up with a way to eliminate this white blood cell traffic jam could help with Alzheimer’s treatments.
Of course, it’ll be a while before we know for sure what kind of practical results will come from both the Cornell and the USC studies. But hopefully researchers will finally stop wasting their time merely trying to banish tau tangles and amyloid beta without making an effort to improve overall brain health, by way of avenues such as boosting blood flow and supplying the brain with additional nutrients.
These studies reinforce the importance of staying heart healthy to keep your brain healthy.
To lower your risk for Alzheimer’s disease and other cognitive problems you have to address the well-being of your cardiovascular system.
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