The Root of Alzheimer's: Could Infection and Inflammation be Part of the Equation?

When it comes to Alzheimer’s disease, a number of researchers think that it’s time to reconsider the idea of infection as a root cause. Scientists are now pointing to studies that reveal the presence of a microbe as a possible trigger for the disease.

The theory is that microbes "find their way into the brain via the bloodstream and lie dormant until triggered by aging, immune system decline or by different types of stress…once they are activated, the microbes then damage brain cells - either directly or via inflammation.”

Even though there have been many studies supporting this theory over the years, these scientists don't feel that they are being heard. Supporting the scientists’ claim is an editorial in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, which compared this lack in acceptance of an alternative to popular theory, to historic controversies related to other diseases.

The editorial states:

“Although the potential involvement of microbes in Alzheimer’s disease has been known for decades, this work has been dismissed as controversial. Opposition to the idea that microbes might be involved resembles the fierce resistance to studies some years ago, demonstrating that viruses cause some types of cancer and a bacterium causes stomach ulcers.”

Over the last decade we have seen hundreds of drug trials fail before coming to market. The majority have been targeting the plaques and tangles that appear in most people with Alzheimer’s disease, thought to be caused by beta-amyloid. One or more of these drugs may turn an important corner and become a new weapon in the battle against the disease, or at least help stave off the worst symptoms. This is all to the good, but limiting the focus of research isn't wise.

The article does not serve to question the currently dominant theory that beta-amyloid symbolizes AD. Instead, the scientists hope to offer up a new school of thought for consideration: That this faulty (beta-amyloid) protein is not a primary cause, but appears to be only a defense mechanism against the microbes and subsequent inflammation used as the body’s defense.

Although continuing to push for recognition of their theory, it seems as though the scientists are gaining ground with support. According to Medical News Today, "the ever-increasing number of these studies... warrants re-evaluation of the infection and AD concept."

Open minds, global sharing of data will speed research

In my opinion, global cooperation among researchers is necessary to speed up the process of finding a cure.The more approaches to the cause of Alzheimer’s disease that are studied, the better chance that a cure will be found.

What can we do while we wait for a cure?

  • Lifestyle changes: Suggestions that may keep some people healthier if not actually prevent the disease are lifestyle changes including exercise, diet, staying socially involved and keeping one’s brain active can’t hurt and may help.

  • Healthy gut: Ask your doctor about keeping your gut in good shape. Some studies have shown that anxiety, allergies and even some types of cancer may start because a person’s digestive system is overrun by unhealthy bacteria. This may be possibly be due to our historic overuse of vital but powerful antibiotics. Some studies have implicated Alzheimer's microbes may be among the gut bacteria that needs controlling.

  • Limit stress: It’s hard to do this in many cultures, but the cortisol pumped through the body during chronic stress is thought to be the cause of a number of diseases. Alzheimer’s researchers put stress control down as an important step toward brain health.

Possible treatment within two years

Deep brain stimulation: For those now affected by Alzheimer’s there is some hope in current studies that are showing that deep brain stimulation (DBS) may be available for Alzheimer's treatment within two years. This technique, now used for other diseases, is appearing to be successful in trials.

You may also want to keep in mind that you are a key to a cure for Alzheimer’s disease. There are plenty of opportunities for people today to support efforts to help people who live with Alzheimer’s disease at this moment. Some may consider volunteering for clinical studies, as well as becoming an activist for funding. All of these can help scientists like the ones discussed help bridge the gap between research and treatment for AD.

Carol Bradley Bursack
Meet Our Writer
Carol Bradley Bursack

Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran family caregiver who spent more than two decades caring for a total of seven elders. This experience provided her with her foundation upon which she built her reputation as a columnist, author, blogger, and consultant. Carol is as passionate about supporting caregivers work through the diverse challenges in their often confusing role as she is about preserving the dignity of the person needing care. Find out much more about Carol at