One very important benefit of improving your brain health is to reduce your chance of coming down with neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s. A new article at NY times explains the new Alzheimer’s disease findings.
Researchers have also found that amyloid, in its normal small amounts, seems to have a purpose in the brain — it may be acting like a circuit breaker to prevent nerve firing from getting out of control.
But of course we know at the other end too much amyloid is bad for your neurons and ends up killing them.
Now the purpose of amyloid might be a natural feedback loop as explained here:
As Dr. Malinow and his colleagues inquired further they discovered that beta amyloid seemed to be part of a nerve cell feedback loop. A nerve will start firing, but under some conditions, the signal can get too intense. Then the nerve releases beta amyloid, bringing the signaling down to normal levels, at which point the nerve stops releasing beta amyloid.
The impact of beta amyloid on synapses was “a very clear effect,” at least in the lab, Dr. Malinow said.
“We proposed that maybe a-beta was normally part of a negative feedback system,” Dr. Malinow said, using a shorthand reference to beta amyloid.
The damage — and Alzheimer’s disease — comes in if there are too many clumps of beta amyloid in the brain. When that happens, the signals between nerve cells are reduced too much, effectively stopping communication.
Even if amyloid has an important function in the brain we still don’t want too much of it or we get Alzheimer’s disease (or at least that is the current theory). However, there is good news since we might be able to detect the disease earlier than ever before.
In order to treat Alzheimer’s before it is too late, scientists now believe they have to detect it much earlier, before there are symptoms. To do that, they have developed several new methods, including brain scans that can show amyloid plaques in living patients.
They also report that the more active a brain is the more amyloid is produced, and maybe people who sleep less might be more prone to the disease. But then we have also heard that people with more education are protected against Alzheimer’s – which doesn’t make sense since their brains are in theory more active. The researchers respond to this paradox:
Dr. Holtzman’s hypothesis is that education, by encouraging more deliberate problem-solving and thought, decreases the activity of the default network, which is not highly engaged with such focused activity.
You will have to read the article because I didn’t cover the default network data.
As for treatments this was said:
The trick in Alzheimer’s, though, might be to start treatment before too much damage is done.
The number of drug based clinical treatments are very limited, or don’t even exist yet. Therefore, if you want to protect your brain health and reduce your chances of Alzheimer’s disease do the things that you have control of and are related to reducing your chances of neurodegenerative diseases: exercise, enriched environment, and reduce your calories.