Infectious Theory of Alzheimer’s Disease Draws Fresh Interest

A physician turned publisher is asking whether it’s possible that severe dementia, aka Alzheimer’s Disease, could be caused by a germ. It’s such a burning question that Dr. Leslie Norins is putting up $1 million of his own money to find out if it’s possible microbes like bacteria or viruses might be to blame for this dreaded brain disease. His theoretical question stems from sources he’s seen that hint that a single, unknown germ not only might be responsible for Alzheimer’s, but contagious as well. According to NPR, Norins isn’t alone in his thinking.

Of all age-related diseases, Alzheimer’s may be the most feared, right up there with cancer and heart disease. And while researchers continue to look for a direct link to the cause of it — which then could offer clues as to how to avoid it — we do have plenty of answers already when it comes to correlations. For example, we know that taking steps to improve and maintain your cardiovascular fitness may significantly slash your risk of Alzheimer’s.

To that end, researchers found in a Swedish study that women with the highest cardiovascular fitness had an 88 percent lower risk of dementia than those with moderate fitness. But this is just one lifestyle factor that we’ve found linked to Alzheimer’s. For instance, we also know that overindulging in grains and sugar can overwhelm your brain with consistently high levels of insulin.

This, in turn, disrupts leptin signaling and, between the two, can lead to impairments in your cognitive abilities and memory. Additionally, other research shows that high-carb diets raise your risk of dementia by a whopping 89 percent, whereas high-fat (healthy fats) lower it by 44 percent. The connection between high-sugar diets and Alzheimer’s is so clear, in fact, that it was highlighted in a longitudinal study published in the journal Diabetologia in early 2018.

Another important factor is lack of sleep. Time and again, research has shown that acute sleep deprivation can impact beta-amyloid buildup in human brain regions that have been implicated in Alzheimer’s disease. If getting enough good, quality sleep isn’t a problem, then you may want to pay attention to another factor linked to memory problems: prolonged sitting.

A 2018 study links too much sitting with memory problems in both middle-aged and older adults, showing that sitting for extended periods of time is closely associated with thinning in the medial temporal lobe of the brain. When it comes to nutrients your body needs, other startling studies show that seniors with a severe vitamin D deficiency can raise their risk for dementia by 125 percent.

Indeed, that’s food for thought. And, while we’re on the topic of food, you might be interested in knowing that the latest research shows that sulforaphane — a component of broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables — not only cleared the accumulation of amyloid beta and tau in mouse models, but also improved memory deficits, a finding so huge that researchers said it’s possible that in the future sulforaphane could be used as a potential treatment for Alzheimer’s in humans.