New Research Provides A New Clue About The Link Between Inflammation & Alzheimer's
Ray Bass is the associate movement and wellness editor at mindbodygreen and a NASM-Certified Personal Trainer. She holds a degree in creative writing from the University of Pennsylvania, with honors in nonfiction.
There are an estimated 5.8 million people in the U.S. living with Alzheimer's disease—making it a leading cause of dementia and death for adults ages 65 and up. So needless to say, any discovery made about how to prevent or treat Alzheimer's is one that would change the lives of the millions living with Alzheimer's as well as change the course of many people's futures. This latest study, we hope, can help do just that.
Biologists at the University of California–Irvine found a brain protein that could, as they say, "put the brakes on Alzheimer's." The protein, called TOM-1, helps to regulate a crucial part of our body's inflammatory response. Given that inflammation can lead to the onset of Alzheimer's, it makes sense that this protein is related to the disease.
"Scientists have known for a long time that inflammation is a driver of Alzheimer's disease, but inflammation is complex and involves many factors," said Frank M. LaFerla, Ph.D., the dean of the School of Biological Sciences whose laboratory conducted the research. "That's why we decided to look at TOM-1."
Throughout the study, researchers saw that decreasing the amount of TOM-1 in Alzheimer's rodent models resulted in Alzheimer's symptoms worsening—they experienced increased inflammation and cognitive problems related to the disease. On the flip side, when TOM-1 levels were restored, symptoms were reversed.
"We were interested in TOM-1 because its levels are low in the Alzheimer's brain and in the brains of Alzheimer's rodent models," said Alessandra C. Martini, Ph.D., a postdoctoral researcher and first author of the paper. "However, its specific role in the disease has largely been unexplored."
What does this mean for us? First, the results of this research are encouraging, as Alzheimer's is a disease without one clear cause or cure. The fact that researchers can slow Alzheimer's at the molecular level gives us hope that we're one step closer to an answer. Second, this study reiterates the importance of reducing our body's overall inflammation. Fortunately, there are so, so many ways to do that, like eating an anti-inflammatory diet (and avoiding inflammatory foods), taking the right supplements, exercising, getting enough sleep, and minimizing stress.
"You can think of TOM-1 as being like the brakes of a car and the brakes aren't working for people with Alzheimer's," LaFerla said. "This research shows that fixing the brakes at the molecular level could provide an entirely new therapeutic avenue. With millions of people affected by Alzheimer's and the numbers growing, we must research a diverse portfolio of approaches so we can one day vanquish this terrible disease."
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