Alzheimer's Has No Cure—But a New Study Just Found Something That May Reverse It
A promising new treatment reversed cognitive impairment in mice.
When recent studies revealed that a yearly flu shot can cut your risk of Alzheimer's disease (AD) by 40 percent, the news made headlines. Any advances in prevention or management of cognitive decline are deserving of attention, since the condition is so devastating, and has no cure.
"More than 6 million Americans of all ages have Alzheimer's," says the Alzheimer's Association, which notes that as people get older the cases of AD will continue to rise. "By 2050, the number of people age 65 and older with Alzheimer's may grow to a projected 12.7 million, barring the development of medical breakthroughs to prevent, slow or cure Alzheimer's disease."
However, a recent study a promising new treatment for AD—one that may actually reverse cognitive decline. Read on to find out what it is.
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Alzheimer's is just one of the diseases that cause dementia.
The National Institute on Aging (NIA) describes AD as "a brain disorder that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills and, eventually, the ability to carry out the simplest tasks. Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause of dementia among older adults," they write.
The NIA explains that the term "dementia" refers to "the loss of cognitive functioning—thinking, remembering, and reasoning—to such an extent that it interferes with a person's daily life and activities."
Different diseases can result in dementia, but the cause behind AD and other forms of cognitive decline are unknown. "Neurodegenerative disorders result in a progressive and irreversible loss of neurons and brain functioning," says the NIA, adding that other diseases that can cause dementia include Lewy body dementia, frontotemporal dementia, and vascular dementia.
Cognitive decline has many different causes.
With no known cure for diseases like AD, the focus is on preventative measures—which continue to be discovered as we learn more about what causes cognitive decline.
For example, Harvard Health reported in 2019 that there is a link between gingivitis (gum disease) and Alzheimer's disease. "A recent study says that the bacteria that cause gingivitis also may be connected to Alzheimer's disease," the site reported, explaining that this type of bacteria is called Porphyromonas gingivalis and can travel from the mouth to the brain. "Once in the brain, the bacteria release enzymes called gingipains that can destroy nerve cells, which in turn can lead to memory loss and eventually Alzheimer's."
This research has led to the recommendation that flossing and brushing your teeth—as well as practicing good oral hygiene in general—can help decrease your risk of Alzheimer's. And there are myriad other ways to help prevent cognitive decline.
Preventative measures are still the best bet against dementia.
Eating a healthy diet has been found to contribute to good brain health; aerobic activities including swimming and jogging have also proven beneficial, and even unexpected habits like socializing have been shown to help prevent dementia. These are all research-based recommendations to help slash the risk of dementia, but until now, the medications developed to address the disease are not effective as a cure.
"Current medications can't cure Alzheimer's disease or other dementias, but they might be able to slow it down and make it easier to live with," explains the Weill Institute for Neurosciences Memory and Aging Center. But "Medications may not work for everyone," says the site, noting that the medications may worsen the disease, or have undesirable side effects.
However, Medical News Today reports that a new study has revealed promising data about treating dementia—and it involves the a hormone you may have heard of.
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This hormone showed promising results against cognitive decline.
Oxytocin, sometimes called "the love hormone," could be the key to reversing cognitive decline, "Oxytocin is a hormone that's produced in the hypothalamus and released into the bloodstream by the pituitary gland," explains Harvard Health. While it helps facilitate the process of childbirth, "Our bodies also produce oxytocin when we're excited by our sexual partner, and when we fall in love," the site notes. "That's why it has earned the nicknames, "love hormone" and "cuddle hormone."
A study published by Neuropsychopharmacology Reports revealed that researchers at the Tokyo University of Science have discovered that "a cell-penetrating oxytocin derivative administered in the nasal passages of memory-impaired mice reversed the rodent's cognitive impairment."
Ajay Verma, PhD, told Medical News Today that the newfound knowledge of hormones being administered via the nasal passages "could be applied to improve brain delivery of many drugs." And while the results of oxytocin in the mice used for the study are promising, "We will have to wait and see how this is translated in humans," Verma said.