Dodging the Alzheimer's Bullet
According to the latest research, certain types of Alzheimer's develop as a result of reduced glucose to the brain. The process is slow and the effects so mild that people don't even notice. The good news is that we have the potential to, "dodge the bullet," according to study author professor Robert Vassar, a cell and molecular biologist at the Northwestern University in Chicago.
In the December 26 issue of the journal Neuron, Vassar and colleagues, report the discovery of a protein called elF2alpha. This protein changes in the absence of sufficient glucose within the brain. When this occurs, the protein releases an enzyme which results in the production of amyloid plaques, the sticky protein associated with Alzheimer's disease. "What we are talking about here is a slow, insidious process over many years where people have a low level of cardiovascular disease or atherosclerosis in the brain," said Vasser.
Although the development of amyloid placques is commonly associated with Alzheimer's disease, the actual process underlying the development of the protein is something of a mystery. Professor Vassar's findings suggest energy deprivation could be the trigger that starts plaque formation.
When deprived of energy, brain cells respond by boosting production of the enzyme BACE1. According to Vasser, this appears to serve as some sort of protective response, but over the longer it becomes harmful. It was Vasser who, around a decade ago, first discovered BACE1 and its role in the development of amyloid plaques.
"The finding is significant because it suggests that improving blood flow to the brain might be an effective therapeutic approach to prevent or treat Alzheimer's," Vassar said.
Preventative approaches are something we can all embrace. Reducing cholesterol, maintaining a healthy blood pressure and taking regular exercise, are all ways to improve blood circulation to the brain. With an estimated 10 million baby boomers on the path to develop Alzheimer's in the future, the self help message has never been clearer. So in terms of your brain let's use it, look after it, or lose it!