Where are we in terms of treating Alzheimer’s disease? To answer this question, I turn to one of the most well-respected, peer-reviewed medical journal dealing with clinical neurology.
In a recent editorial in the journal Neurology, Drs. Michal Schnaider Beeri, and Joshua Sonnen stated:
Despite great scientific efforts to find treatments for Alzheimer disease (AD), only 5 medications are marketed, with limited beneficial effects on symptoms, on a limited proportion of patients, without modification of the disease course. The prevalence of AD doubles every 5 years, reaching the alarming rate of 50% in those aged 85 years and older. In the context of the demographic trends of modern society, where the elderly are the fastest growing segment of the population, identification of new therapeutic targets that may prevent, delay, or cure AD is critically needed.
I so agree. The editorial goes on to describe how the body produces a growth hormone, BDNF, that is associated with reduced risk for cognitive decline and describes how looking at the genetic control for BDNF might enhance cognitive reserve.
I have spoken at length about the importance of exercise for increasing the gene expression of BDNF, a protein that increases the growth of new brain cells. As previously mentioned, research has shown that people with higher levels of BDNF are at a lower risk of developing dementia.
In this new study, exercise in people age 50 or over is demonstrated to have significant effects on cognition. The report is a meta-analysis, meaning a review of other research publications (in this case, 39 studies). It’s a comprehensive look at how exercise impacts the brain!
These days it’s pretty common knowledge that we humans are constantly replenishing our brain cells, a process known as neurogenesis. But keep in mind that the first scientific publication that demonstrated our capacity to grow new brain cells was only recently published, in 1998. To be sure, back when I was in medical school in the early 1980s, it was pretty much accepted as dogma that humans totally lacked this ability. We were told that you had a given number of brain cells and that after around age 18, it was pretty much downhill from there.
Neurogenesis, growing new brain cells, is happening in your brain right now, and this process will continue for the rest of your life. But the revelation is that we can actually enhance this process by making smart lifestyle choices. Continue reading