Feeling hungry may protect against Alzheimer's
Alzheimer's disease is affecting more and more people each year, and as the Baby Boomer generation ages, the disease is projected to affect many millions more in the coming years. Part of the challenge is that attempts to treat the disease later in life – once nerve networks have been damaged – are likely too late. So much of the focus is now on prevention. .
In the effort to find new ways to prevent Alzheimer's, doctors from the School of Medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham have concluded that mild hunger pangs may help protect the brain against cognitive decline. By creating the illusion of “caloric restriction” in mice, the researchers were able to see some effect in reducing the downward mental progression. Cutting calories, it seems, was not as important as the perception of an empty stomach, which can be triggered by manipulating hormonal signals to the brain.
The scientists suspect that feeling hungry causes mild stress, which, in turn, ignites the signaling pathways that counter plaque deposits known to destroy nerve cells in Alzheimer's patients. The study gave mice a pill form of ghrelin, a hormone known to cause hunger feelings, to study its effects. If the results of the study lead to the development of a ghrelin-based treatment, patients might be able to delay the cognitive decline associated with Alzheimer's.