More than 55 million people around the world suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, the most common type of dementia. Despite the rapid advancements medical science has seen over the last few decades, there is no set cure for this life-threatening disease. However, a new study has revealed that intermittent fasting could protect against Alzheimer’s disease, raising hopes of an eventual cure.
The science and other stuff to know
The global average age expectancy has shown remarkable improvement since the 1900s and now stands at over 70 years. But as the average lifespan increased, it introduced a host of diseases earlier unknown to humans, including Alzheimer’s disease (AD).
Alzheimer’s disease affects parts of the brain that control thought, memory, and language and is thought to be caused by an abnormal build-up of proteins in and around brain cells. One of the two proteins causing the disease is called amyloid, whose deposits form plaques around brain cells, while the other is called tau, deposits of which form tangles within brain cells.
In the latest study published in the journal Nature — led predominantly by scientists at the Science Center, Beijing Institute of Basic Medical Sciences — researchers experimented with mice and suggested that intermittent fasting was influential in improving “cognitive functions and AD-like pathology in a transgenic AD mouse model”. The research builds on several earlier studies that also hinted at the effectiveness of intermittent fasting for AD patients for a diverse range of reasons.
To gauge the effects of intermittent fasting, scientists tested mice with AD through spells of intermittent fasting. The results showed that intermittent fasting improved gut function by altering the “microbial composition with a significant enrichment in probiotics such as Lactobacillus”. The changes in the gut improve metabolic activities and metabolite production, including an abundance of amino acids.
Besides, fasting helped “amelioration of cognitive decline, amyloid-β (Aβ) burden, and glial overactivation”, the study said. Glial is a tissue that surrounds and supports neurons in the central nervous system, and along with neural cells, composes the tissue of the central nervous system.
Scientists believe that an intermittent fasting regime had the potential to “prevent AD progression, at least through the gut-microbiota-metabolites-brain axis, and constitutes an innovative AD therapeutic avenue”.
With each passing day, researchers are finding new evidence about how intermittent fasting helps maintain overall good health. In the same vein, there is growing evidence that people who maintain healthy lifestyle habits like routine exercise and weight management can become significantly more immune to dementia. The new research, then, is a validation of both arguments and can be utilized to help AD patients live an improved life.
Following the success in testing on mice samples, the researchers are certain to move to continuously larger species until the methodology can be repeated to gauge its effectiveness in humans.
AD can be excruciatingly painful for patients as well as families as it has no cure and gets increasingly worse with age. The WHO says it is the seventh leading cause of death among all diseases and worsens disability and dependency in the older population worldwide.
But with promising new studies like the one from the Beijing Institute of Basic Medical Sciences, we can hope that a cure might be within reach. Or that we may find an effective way to minimize the suffering caused by Alzheimer’s disease.