Researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have found that the intestinal bacteria of people in the earliest stage of Alzheimer’s disease before cognitive symptoms become apparent, differ from the gut bacteria of healthy individuals.
The study was published on June 14 in Science Translational Medicine and suggests that analyzing the gut bacterial community could potentially identify those at higher risk of developing dementia and facilitate the design of microbiome-altering treatments to prevent cognitive decline.
The Gut-Brain Connection
Co-corresponding author Gautam Dantas, Ph.D., commented on the link between the gut and brain, “It could be that the changes in the gut microbiome are just a readout of pathological changes in the brain.
The other alternative is that the gut microbiome is contributing to Alzheimer’s disease, in which case altering the gut microbiome with probiotics or fecal transfers might help change the course of the disease.”
The Early Diagnosis Opportunity
During the early stage of Alzheimer’s, which can last for two decades or more, people accumulate clumps of the proteins amyloid beta and tau in their brains but do not show signs of neurodegeneration or cognitive decline.
“If you can diagnose someone very early in the disease process, that would be the optimal time to intervene with a therapy effectively,” Beau M. Ances, MD, Ph.D., co-corresponding author, said.
Findings of the Study
The study involved 164 cognitively normal participants, of which about a third (49) displayed signs of early Alzheimer’s.
The analysis showed a clear difference in gut bacteria between healthy participants and those with early Alzheimer’s disease, which correlated with levels of amyloid and tau proteins.
These findings could be potentially used to screen for early Alzheimer’s disease.
“One day individuals may be able to provide a stool sample and find out if they are at increased risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease,” Ances suggested, emphasizing the simplicity and accessibility of such a screening tool.
The team has initiated a five-year follow-up study to discern whether the differences in gut microbiome are a cause or a consequence of the brain changes observed in early Alzheimer’s disease.
Dantas pointed out that if there is a causal link, it is most likely related to inflammation, speculating that promoting “good” bacteria or eliminating “bad” bacteria could potentially slow down or even halt the progression of symptomatic Alzheimer’s disease.
If you care about wellness, please read studies that eating nuts may help reduce risks of gut lesions and cancer, and how tea and coffee influence your risk of high blood pressure.
For more information about health, please see recent studies about plant nutrients that could help reduce high blood pressure, and these antioxidants could help lower dementia risk.
The study was published in Science Translational Medicine.
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