Alzheimer’s and Inflammation: How to Protect Your Brain
Alzheimer’s disease is rapidly rising in the United States.
The 2011 Alzheimer’s Disease: Facts and Figures from the Alzheimer’s Association tells us that dementia and other neurodegenerative disorders are disproportionately underfunded.
The Alzheimer’s Association refers to several studies and demonstrates that:
- 5.4 million Americans have Alzheimer’s.
- This number does not include other dementias.
- Both of these numbers are rising as the U.S. population over 65 increases.
- 2011 figures tell us that after the age of 85, 43% of the U.S. population has this very severe neurodegenerative condition. (1)
How Neurodegenerative Disease Relates to Chronic Infection
Several recent studies have linked Herpes Simplex Virus type 1 (HSV1) to the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Plaque formation in the brain, which is extremely common in Alzheimer’s patients, is now being considered as possibly an antimicrobial protein that the brain secretes in a self-defensive act against infection. (2)
HSV1 is extremely common. It is estimated that 60-90% of adults in the United States are infected with HSV1. Recently, one study at the INSERM in Bordeaux, France, led by Luc Letenneur, specifically showed a link between HSV1 antibodies and Alzheimer’s. (3)
- The study covered a 14 year time span.
- 512 elderly people with no signs of dementia were monitored.
- HSV1 antibodies were documented as a bigger risk factor than a gene called the “Alzheimer’s gene”.
The protein responsible for plaque formation is called beta-amyloid. Some drugs have been developed that are anti-amyloid, meaning that they fight the production of amyloid agents. These drugs have either failed to produce results or have actually sped up the neurodegenerative process. Why is this?
Alzheimer’s and Inflammation
The inflammatory process is an immune system response that is set up to protect the body. When opportunistic pathogens, like yeast, bacteria, or viruses, invade the body and begin to multiply, the immune system is set up to tag these invaders and destroy them.
Problems occur when the immune system attacks the body itself, like in an autoimmune condition, or when the immune system becomes confused and attacks a non-pathogenic substance, like wheat gluten. The protein structure in wheat gluten has actually been found to be similar to that of Candida albicans, and this may account for why so many people have sensitivity to the proteins in wheat.
Many of us already know that persistent inflammation, even if it lies somewhere deep within the body, will eventually lead to the breakdown of our whole system.
Want to keep your mind sharp regardless of your age? Start by cutting out sources of inflammation to protect your brain health – like eliminating processed foods, refined sugars, and stress.
Scientists are now finding that beta-amyloid fights pathogenic infection. In fact, it is likely that this beta-amyloid protein is a part of an immune response in the brain. This is why it has been linked with neurodegeneration. When the brain becomes inflamed, it breaks down. While this protein is hallmark to an inflammatory response and neurodegeneration, it is also a protective measure. Without this protein, the brain is then more vulnerable to infective agents, like HSV1.
Scientists studying beta-amyloid have also found that it has significant microbicidal activity against several pathogens, including Candida albicans, Escherichia coli, Staphylococcus aureus, and pneumoniae. Dr. Perlmutter, who spoke at the Institute for Functional Medicine’s 20th annual symposium, says that beta-amyloid “may actually be a friend, not a foe”. Dr. Perlmutter, a neurologist and functional medicine physician in Naples, Florida, authored two books about the brain called The Better Brain Book and Power Up Your Brain.
Neurodegeneration, such as that found in Alzheimer’s, has been linked to excessive activity of the microglia cells in the brain. The microglia are the housekeepers in the brain and are extremely sensitive to any kind of stimulation.
- Glial and microglia cells are similar to macrophages of the immune system.
- They clean house, having the ability destroy and also sound an alarm call with certain cell messengers called interleukins.
- Microglia cells protect and nurture the neuron.
- Microglia are extremely sensitive. One neuronal death is never a singular event. There is always, even if small in degree, a domino effect.
- A systemic inflammatory signal can activate microglia cells.
Prolonged activation of the immune system can go systemic and trigger a whole-body alarm response. Once this happens, especially if over an extended period of time, the integrity of the blood brain barrier, which protects the brain, weakens and becomes permeable.
A Weakened Blood Brain Barrier and HSV1
Another team of researchers, led by Dr Ruth Itzhaki, found HSV1 DNA in amyloid plaque samples in people with symptomatic and asymptomatic Alzheimer’s disease. (4) The study found that:
- 72% of the viral DNA is plaque-associated.
- HSV is a significant contributing factor to the development of Alzheimer’s disease.
- The process by which herpes enters the central nervous system is slow and life-long.
Systemic inflammation contributes to the weakening of the protective blood brain barrier. When a pathogen like HSV1 enters the immune system, the microglia cells react, and neurons die. Not only that, but it is now believed that beta-amyloid has been found so congruently in Alzheimer’s patients because this plaque protein is actually a defense mechanism.
What Is the Best Way to Protect the Brain?
Beta-amyloid is also effective against Candida albicans, Escherichia coli, and Staphylococcus aureus. When so many people are infected with common viruses, like HSV1, and other herpetic viruses that affect the nervous system, as well as systemic fungal infections, what is the best way to protect the brain from neurodegeneration?
The Body Ecology Principle of Acid and Alkaline tells us that when the body is in an acidic state, opportunistic pathogens like yeast, bacteria, and viruses can thrive. The body becomes acidic when we:
- Have a diet that includes processed foods, which are often stripped of their natural minerals.
- Consume excessive amounts of sugar, especially refined sugars.
- Ignore what types of oils are in our diet and eat common oils in processed food products.
- Eat foods to which we have a sensitivity or allergic response.
- Allow stress to dominate our lives.
- Overtrain or habitually overexercise.
Remember, chronic inflammation is not an isolated event. Chemical messengers that communicate the inflammatory signal travel throughout the body.
- Remove unhealthy oils and excessive sugars, which are known to generate an inflammatory response.
- Replace these with beneficial microflora, as they have been shown to actually reduce inflammation in the intestinal tract.
- The digestive system uniquely related to the central nervous system. When the epithelial cells of the digestive walls become inflamed, the epithelial cells of the blood brain barrier also become inflamed.
- Reduce stress and breathe deeply. This activates the parasympathetic nervous systems and calms the body down, which reduces inflammation.
Many foods that are easily available and attractive to our senses are all heavily refined or include additives that may enhance the taste or shelf life of a product but not its health value. These foods are even sold in natural food markets and advertised as healthy and beneficial to your body. The best way to get around these additives, excessive amounts of sugars, and unhealthy oils is to read labels carefully and try to prepare as many of your meals at home as possible.
What To Remember Most About This Article:
Alzheimer’s disease is on the rise in the US, affecting 5.4 million Americans. Recent studies have even linked Herpes Simplex Virus type 1 to Alzheimer’s disease. Plaque formation in the brain that is common in Alzheimer’s patients may be an antimicrobial protection against infection in the body.
When there is chronic inflammation in the body, it will eventually lead to a weakened immune system and a breakdown of our bodily systems. Systemic inflammation further contributes to neurodegeneration and Alzheimer’s disease when the immune system flares up for an extended period of time. To keep the brain protected and reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, all inflammatory sources must be removed from the body. By eliminating processed foods, refined sugars, and foods that cause an allergic response, you can stop chronic inflammation and prevent Alzheimer’s disease.
- Alzheimer’s Association. “2011 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures.” Alzheimer’s & Dementia. 2011; 7 (2).
- Wozniak MA, et al. J Pathol. 2009;217(1):131-8.
- Letenneur L, et al. PLoS One. 2008; 3(11):e3637.
- Itzhaki R, et al. J Alzheimers Dis. 2008 May;13(4):393-405.