Some forms of Alzheimer’s disease might be avoided by making sure the brain gets enough energy from glucose, through good blood flow. Lead study author, Robert Vassar, discovered that the protein eIF2alpha, acts like a switch when the brain does not receive enough energy. The result is the formation of the sticky protein material (amyloid plaques) found in the brain of patients with Alzheimer’s disease.
According to Vassar, a professor of cell and molecular biology at the Feinberg School of Medicine, "If people start early enough, maybe they can dodge the (Alzheimer’s) bullet. For people who already have symptoms, vasodilators, which increase blood flow, may help the delivery of oxygen and glucose to the brain.”
The research is significant, especially given statistics from the Alzheimer’s Association. Estimates show that ten million baby boomers will likely develop Alzheimer’s disease during their lifetime. Dr. Vassar believes that drugs could potentially be developed to block the formation of elF2alpha, increasing energy to the brain, and preventing amyloid plaques.
Dr. Vassar, ten years ago, discovered the enzyme, BACE1, responsible for disrupting signals between nerve cells. BACE1 is found in high levels in people with Alzheimer’s disease. Until now, no one has understood what causes the protein enzymes to form. The new research shows that lack of blood flow and energy to the brain may act as an Alzheimer’s trigger.
Dr. Vassar explains that, unlike a stroke, where the brain cells die, the brain reacts to energy deprivation by forming BACE1, a protective mechanism that later becomes harmful. “What we are talking about here is a slow, insidious process over many years where people have a low level of cardiovascular disease or atherosclerosis in the brain. It's so mild, they don't even notice it, but it has an effect over time because it's producing a chronic reduction in the blood flow."
With aging, Vassar believes some people are prone to increased levels of the harmful enzymes that disrupt brain energy.
Keep your cholesterol levels normal, manage your blood pressure, and exercise daily to increase energy to the brain and prevent cardiovascular and Alzheimer’s disease.
Kathleen Blanchard, RN
Brain Starvation as We Age Appears to Trigger Alzheimer’s