Research Confirms Connection Between Gut Bacteria & Alzheimer's Disease
New research out of Switzerland and Italy has confirmed not only that gut bacteria is a key factor in the development of Alzheimer's, but subsequent inflammation in the blood may be the bridge between the two that triggers the disease.
The more we come to understand gut health, the more we discover how important it is to have healthy, diverse microbiota. And based on this research, published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, we all have one more reason to mind our microbiome. Here's what they found.
How bacteria affect the immune and nervous systems.
The researchers conducted their study based on what we've already come to know about gut health as it relates to neurodegenerative diseases. We know bacteria in the gut can influence our immune system, which will affect—and sometimes disrupt—how the immune system works with the nervous system.
Certain inflammatory bacterias have proteins called lipopolysaccharides, which have been found in amyloid plaques in the brains of Alzheimer's patients.
As study co-author and neurologist Giovanni Frisoni, M.D., explains in a news release, "We've discovered an association between an inflammatory phenomenon detected in the blood, certain intestinal bacteria and Alzheimer's disease—hence the hypothesis we wanted to test here: could inflammation in the blood be a mediator between the microbiota and the brain?"
Linking bacteria to Alzheimer's disease.
For their research, the team looked at 89 people between 65 and 85—some with neurodegenerative diseases, and some without. They measured the amount of amyloid plaques in the brain, as well as various inflammatory markers and proteins in the blood caused by gut bacteria.
What they found was "indisputable" evidence that certain gut bacteria correlate with the amount of amyloid plaques in the brain. As doctor of molecular medicine and study co-author Moira Marizzoni, Ph.D., notes: "Indeed, high blood levels of lipopolysaccharides and certain short-chain fatty acids were associated with both large amyloid deposits in the brain."
Basically, blood with more of those proteins is interfering with the immune and nervous systems, triggering Alzheimer's. However, another short-chain fatty acid called butyrate was associated with less amyloid plaques, offering a potential means of preventing the disease.
As we learn more about which bacteria are beneficial to our guts and overall health—and which aren't—this research opens up the possibility of new preventive measures against neurodegenerative diseases, such as through supplementing pre- and probiotics.
But as Frisoni is sure to point out, there is still work to be done in identifying exactly which strains of bacteria we want to go for. And further, this would be a preventive strategy, not a treatment—highlighting the importance of early detection.
Still, one thing we can be sure of is the role of gut health in everything from healthy aging to neurodegenerative diseases, digestion, skin health, autoimmune diseases, and so much more. Until we understand more about specific strains of bacteria, it would seem the best thing we can do is mind our gut.
Sarah Regan is a Spirituality & Relationships Editor, a registered yoga instructor, and an avid astrologer and tarot reader. She received her bachelor's in broadcasting and mass communication from State University of New York at Oswego, and lives in Buffalo, New York.