One more example of how food has an effect on our entire body
Alzheimer's is a progressive, neurodegenerative disease: this means that it causes deterioration in the brain that progresses over time.
The damage inflicted by Alzheimer's disease causes certain cognitive functions related to memory to diminish; but also some that affect emotions or personality, thus affecting behavior.
Because of its characteristics, this disease is classified as dementia, and although it is not the only one there is, it is the most prevalent: among people suffering from dementia, about 60% is caused by Alzheimer's disease.
It usually occurs in people over 65, but this does not mean that it is a feature of aging, and there are cases where it occurs in younger adults.
Although we have more and more information about Alzheimer's, there is still a lot to know about it, especially to find treatments that can cure it or at least halt its progression.
Studying a disease that affects the brain while it is taking place can be very complicated. It is possible to observe the effects on people's behavior and cognitive performance.
However, it is more difficult to know exactly what is going on in the brain of a person with Alzheimer's. It is not as easy to take a biopsy as it is for other diseases that occur in other parts of the body.
However, over time, it has been possible to gather information about what is going on in the brain by analyzing the brains of people who have passed away from the disease.
Although there is no clear cause for Alzheimer's disease, there is evidence that a common characteristic of those affected is that they have abnormal accumulations of the protein amyloid-beta.
This protein forms deposits in the gray matter of the brain that can form normally with age, but if the accumulation is very large, it causes the neurons to have less energy available and degenerate.
Worms of the species C. elegans.
For this reason, much of the research to understand the causes of Alzheimer's and develop treatments focuses on the amyloid-beta protein.
A study recently published in the journal Cell Reports concludes that it may be possible to reverse the formation of these proteins by changing our diet.
A group researchers have found that changing our diet could be beneficial in treating Alzheimer's disease, and to do so they have used worms to collaborate.
Although it may not seem like it, worms are very good laboratory helpers, especially those of the species Caenorhabditis elegans.
C. elegans are used as biological models to study many diseases because they share genetic and metabolic similarities with humans.
For example, the nervous system of these worms is affected by the accumulation of amyloid-beta protein: When this happens to them, they become completely paralyzed.
These biologists from the University of Delaware found that they were not paralyzed if their diet contained vitamin B12.
Of course, Alzheimer's is much more than paralysis, and humans are more complex than worms, but these findings suggest that we may be able to reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer's if we change our diet.
Professor Jessica Tanis, who led the study, points out that while there are factors in Alzheimer's that we can't control, such as age or heredity, there is one thing we can do:
"If people could change their diet to influence the onset of the disease, that would be fantastic."