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Alzheimer’s disease is an ailment that can’t be ignored. In 2020, 5.8 million people were living with Alzheimer’s in the US – and that number is expected to nearly triple to 14 million by 2060. Currently, there’s no known cure that can combat this progressive disease.
However, the results of a new research study could help change that. In fact, this study may change the way scientists look at Alzheimer’s, how it’s treated and how it might be prevented in the future.
An overactive immune response could play a role in the onset of Alzheimer’s
A research study conducted by researchers at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto and published in The Journal of Applied Laboratory Medicine found evidence that Alzheimer’s disease may not be a cognitive condition alone. This groundbreaking study may have uncovered a link between certain autoimmune markers and Alzheimer’s – meaning that this disease may actually be an autoimmune disorder.
In individuals who have autoimmune disorders, the immune system attacks healthy cells instead of foreign or harmful cells within the body. The immune system produces antibodies, or autoantibodies, in its effort to “fight” healthy cells and tissue. This triggers conditions and illnesses like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and psoriasis.
Over the course of their study, researchers at Mount Sinai Hospital studied the cerebrospinal fluid of individuals who had Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s, along with healthy individuals who suffered from headaches. They found evidence that the individuals with Alzheimer’s had several specific autoantibodies that were attacking brain proteins present in their cerebrospinal fluid. Those autoantibodies actually targeted the body’s very own brain proteins – just like antibodies attack healthy tissues in individuals with autoimmune disorders.
Autoantibodies that appeared to target specific brain proteins were not found in the participants with Parkinson’s or headaches. They were only seen in the Alzheimer’s group.
As Global News reports, the study’s scientists theorize that the autoantibodies might enter brain tissue when there’s been damage to the blood-brain barrier. And once the autoantibodies are in the brain, they may cause inflammation and speed up the destruction of certain neuronal cells – a factor in the onset and progression of Alzheimer’s – as they attack healthy tissue.
What this means for the future of Alzheimer’s disease
This research study adds to the growing body of evidence suggesting that Alzheimer’s disease may be an autoimmune disorder. Previously, most of the research into this disease centered on the plaques that form in the brain. Now, however, future research into the connection between the immune system and Alzheimer’s is needed.
While the results of the study need to be replicated on a larger scale, they still hold plenty of promise. Previous attempted treatments and therapies haven’t been effective at curing Alzheimer’s. With the ongoing research into this autoimmune link, new therapies can be explored and tested, offering new hope for better results in the future.
Additionally, autoimmunity appears to be on the rise. Increasingly more people, including teenagers, are showing signs of autoimmunity that could lead to autoimmune disorders. So, whether you’re concerned about Alzheimer’s disease or autoimmune health in general, it’s a good idea to keep your immune system’s health in mind. Working to eat well for your autoimmune health, choosing autoimmune-healing foods and being aware of little-known signs of inflammation are all important.