Inflammation and Neurodegeneration

We have known about the relationship between inflammation and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s for years. Studies have shown that inflammatory markers such as CRP and Homocysteine levels, TNF alpha (tumor necrosis factor) and other inflammatory cytokines are elevated in these conditions. One significant study followed CRP levels (marker of inflammation) in a group of men for 25 years to see if they had developed Alzheimer’s Disease and other forms of dementia. The results showed that there was a profound predictability of these diseases based upon the CRP levels. This could be a very powerful tool for prevention.

It is important that we all recognize that inflammation is a key player in brain health and disease. All of the parameters that we measure in the rest of the body to indicate inflammation are just as active in the brain if not more so. And the brain actually has less of an ability to protect itself against inflammation compared to other parts of the body. This is the secret in treating dementia and neurodegenerative disease: control and prevent inflammation. Put out the fire of inflammation. It is said that many of the pharmaceuticals used to treat these disorders only treat the smoke or the symptoms and not the fire of inflammation. If we want to keep our cognitive powers into old age, it is extremely important that we pay attention to the fundamental importance of inflammation and intervene proactively.

What causes inflammation? While we cannot modify our genetic predisposition, we can at least know what it is. We can measure our APOE or apolipoprotein status. We know that people who carry the APOE 4 gene as opposed to 2 or 3 are at a high risk for developing Alzheimer’s due to the fact that this gene causes less antioxidant protection in the brain. Also, lack of blood flow or ischemia can increase inflammation as can elevated homocysteine levels, toxins and infectious agents.

Inflammation produces its ill effects by increasing free radical species at the cellular levels. This cascade of free radical formation ultimately turns on “death” genes which help increase production of inflammatory chemicals in the body. Patients go from young to old and we know that their levels of reactive oxygen spieces are high. And inflammatory cytokines turn on gene transcription in the body to continue to produce more cytokines if left unchecked, and the patient deteriorates.

Did you know that if you have diabetes that you dramatically increase your risk of dementia and neurodegenerative disease? Over eighteen million Americans are diabetic and many more classified as pre-diabetic and insulin resistant. This is important because elevated glucose levels in the brain cause a modification of brain proteins which then produce more reactive oxygen spieces, free radicals and drastically increase inflammation. A study showed the ability of a strong antioxidant, NAC or N-acetyl cysteine, to dramatically reduce this inflammatory pathway in the brain and diminish the ill effects of inflammation. So here is a readily available over the counter supplement that is so important in treating dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Diabetes has been shown to have a direct detrimental effect on the hippocampus in the brain. This is the area involved in memory processing and at most risk in Alzheimer’s. Also, a person who takes insulin has a 4.3 fold increase of developing Alzheimer’s. This risk is also doubled in people with Type 2 Diabetes who are non insulin dependent. These are ALL inflammatory issues.

The bad news is that despite the documentation in the scientific literature, inflammation as a causative factor in neurodegeneration has been up to now, largely ignored. The good news is that many physicians are now starting to notice how decreasing inflammation proactively can result in a large decrease in dementia and neurodegeneration. In the next post, I will give you some proactive strategies to help you prevent yourselves from falling victim to many of these inflammatory disease states. Thank you for reading. This is a complex subject but a very important one!

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