Study cures 9 of 10 early-stage Alzheimer’s patients
Thursday, December 11, 2014
Alzheimer's is one of the most feared diseases in the U.S., and for good reason. It is the sixth-leading cause of death and affects approximately 5 million Americans per year. There is no cure for Alzheimer's, and in its late stages patients will be unable to speak or interact with their environment — they will even lose the ability to swallow.
The average lifespan for an Alzheimer's patient once symptoms begin to be expressed is roughly eight years, which is a relatively short period of time considering many people who develop early onset are in their 40s or 50s. Alzheimer's is an unforgiving illness and has always been a hopeless situation for patients, who are completely aware of what will happen to them, and all they can do is wait.
However, hope may be on the horizon.
The results of a small study out of UCLA are extremely encouraging. Published in the journal Aging, the study discusses using a therapeutic program that aids in the reversal of cognitive decline. The study used modalities designed to achieve metabolic enhancement for neurodegeneration, essentially.
Only 10 people were selected to participate — all in somewhat different stages of the disease — and they were between the ages 55 and 75. All in all, nine of the 10 subjects were cured and displayed no further symptoms of the disease. The one failure was a patient in the late stages of the disease.
With 30 million people affected by Alzheimer's per year globally, this discovery could be the first stage to finding a way to reverse the symptoms in Alzheimer's patients. It will not be known for a while whether or not the disease was cured — it depends on whether those patients ever develop those symptoms again.
But, regardless, the reversal of the symptoms is nothing short of miraculous. Neurodegenerative diseases are one of the few acute illnesses in which there is little to no effective therapy — until possibly now.
Scientists have determined that in advanced Alzheimer's disease, there is an imbalance in endogenous plasticity signaling, where β-amyloid precursor protein (APP) is a mediator of such signaling.
This makes Alzheimer's similar to other diseases such as cancer and osteoporosis, because Alzheimer's is also an age-related imbalance between synaptoblastic and synaptoclastic activity, which is a feedback system in the brain that controls its development, maintenance and repair.
There are four other polypeptides that make up an APP, some which are involved with cell death and others that control activation and inhibition. This makes APP like a light switch, in a sense, because it can regulate functions such as the plasticity signaling, which is crucial in learning and memory. It is what allows people to adapt to their environment, which explains why Alzheimer's patients eventually lose that ability.
The APP controls two different types of peptides: neurite-retractive and neurite-extending. From what scientists can tell, neurite-retractive peptides are associated with Alzheimer's when they are in a higher ration to the neurite-extending peptides. Reducing the ratio, or cleaving the APP, seems to lessen the severity of the disease.
Improvements were seen in the patients who used a treatment that optimized vitamin D and K2 levels in the blood using docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) supplements to bridge broken connections in the brain and carefully controlling insulin levels. Inflammation also had to be minimized, and antioxidants were optimized.
While this may seem completely unrelated to plasticity signaling, it actually plays a huge role. Diet and nutrition are directly related to the brain's metabolism, which in turn controls plasticity and helps prevent an abnormal balance of plasticity.
Vitamin D3, for example, has a modest effect on pathogenesis, but when you combine it with a correct diet, with regulated insulin levels, it becomes a direct and prominent factor in regard to function.
This new Alzheimer's treatment has been the most successful, particularly in regards to human trials. However, it is a difficult treatment to follow. The diet and lifestyle changes were difficult for patients, as well as the plethora of pills required each day.
None of the patients ended up following the entire protocol. But as the treatment progressed, they became more aware, and the symptoms for nine of the 10 were reversed.
Larger trials are required, and certain questions still need to be addressed, such as: How much improvement should be expected as the treatment progresses? And how late a stage of Alzheimer's can a patient be in before the treatment is no longer effective?
Regardless, this study is the first of its kind, and it is the first to show both objective and subjective improvement.
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