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Alzheimer's Update: The Immune System Connection

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Researchers are investigating inflammation and overactive immune function as possible causes of Alzheimer's disease. Scientists are furiously looking for causes of the "ticking time bomb" in our brains. Ten per cent of seniors over age 65 have Alzheimer's disease, and 50 per cent of those over 85 are afflicted.

Researchers are investigating inflammation and overactive immune function as possible causes of Alzheimer's disease.

Scientists are furiously looking for causes of the "ticking time bomb" in our brains. Ten per cent of seniors over age 65 have Alzheimer's disease, and 50 per cent of those over 85 are afflicted. With the enormous group of baby boomers hitting the age of highest risk, the number affected with Alzheimer's is expected to increase to 5.5 million in the next several years and 14 million by 2050. January is Alzheimer's Awareness month. Here is the latest research.

Inflammation and overactive immune function are now seriously being investigated as instigators of Alzheimer's disease. New research shows that an overactive immune system plays a powerful role in causing central nervous system inflammation and the destruction of neurons, which transmit and receive signals in the brain.

Inflammation in the brain caused by the immune system is now thought to be a major mediator of Alzheimer's disease. Our brains contain a certain immune cell called a microglia cell that acts like a macrophage (the big eater cells of the immune system). These brain microglia cells release inflammatory immune factors including interleukin-1 and interleukin-6. Experimental studies in animals and clinical trials in humans have shown that these inflammatory immune factors promote the destruction of neurons in the brains of those with Alzheimer's disease. In certain animal studies, when interleukin-1 and interleukin-6 were blocked, the destruction of neurons was halted.

Let's take it to the next step. If inflammation of the brain is one of the factors that induces destruction of neurons in the brain of an Alzheimer's patient, then anti-inflammatory agents that cross the blood brain barrier could halt the release of these damaging immune factors, reduce our risk of developing Alzheimer's or halt the progression of the disease. And that is just what researchers at the University of British Columbia, along with others around the world, are discovering that anti-inflammatory drugs can protect against Alzheimer's.

Nutrients with powerful anti-inflammatory effects that inhibit the secretion of interleukin-1 and interleukin-6 have also been evaluated for their protective effect against Alzheimer's. Researchers at the University of California found the curry spice curcumin, in both low and high doses, reduced the inflammatory immune factors secreted by microglia cells, showing great promise for the prevention of Alzheimer's. A new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (June 2002) suggests that vitamins C and E, beta-carotene and a general multivitamin with minerals may help protect people against Alzheimer's disease, thereby postponing cognitive and memory decline. Vitamins C and E are powerful anti-inflammatory nutrients that inhibit interleukin-1 and interleukin-6, so it makes sense that they would protect our brains from injury or immune system assault. Formulas consisting of plant sterols and sterolins have also been shown in clinical trials to effectively stop the immune system from sending out interleukin-1 and interleukin-6.

Many nutrients blunt the action of interleukin-1 and interleukin-6. Although they have not been studied directly for their use in Alzheimer's disease, they should also be considered as excellent Alzheimer's prevention nutrients. These include vitamin D, herbal boswellia extracts and omega-3 essential fatty acids, which are all available at health food stores.

Don't wait another day to start your Alzheimer's protection program. Include these nutrients in your daily regimen. And don't forget to eat curried foods on a regular basis.

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