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How You Can Prevent Alzheimer's Disease

A novel model of human brain aging developed by a UCLA neuroscientist identifies midlife breakdown of myelin, a fatty insulation coating the brain's internal wiring, as a possible key to the onset of Alzheimer's disease later in life. The model presents opportunities to explore how lifestyle changes in middle age might help brains remain healthy longer. This model embraces the human brain as a high-speed Internet rather than a computer. The quality of the Internet's connection is the key to its speed. Close analysis of brain tissue and MRIs clearly shows that the brain's wiring develops until middle age and then begins to decline as the breakdown of myelin triggers a destructive domino affect.

Myelin is a sheet of lipid, or fat, with very high cholesterol content, the highest of any brain tissue. The high cholesterol content allows myelin to wrap tightly around axons, speeding messages through the brain by insulating these neural "wire" connections. As the brain continues to develop in adulthood and as myelin is produced in greater and greater quantities, cholesterol levels in the brain grow and eventually promote the production of a toxic protein that attacks the brain. The protein attacks myelin, disrupts message transfer through the axons and eventually leads to the brain/mind-destroying plaques and tangles visible years later in the cortex of Alzheimer's patients.

This new model of brain development and degeneration suggests that the best time to address the inevitability of myelin breakdown is when it begins, in middle age. By the time the effects of Alzheimer's disease become apparent in patients' 60s, 70s or 80s, it may be too late to reverse the course of the disease. Some of the best prevention therapies include:

Neurobiology of Aging January 2004;25(1):49-62

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