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Alzheimer’s could be down to a bad gut

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Alzheimer’s disease may not all be in the head. It could be triggered by an unhealthy gut and its interaction with our nervous system, new research suggests.

Brain plaques, which are characteristic of Alzheimer’s, could have their origins in the gut microbiome, and especially in ‘bad’ bacteria, researchers at the University of Geneva have discovered.

They scanned the brains of 89 people aged between 65 and 85, some of whom were suffering from Alzheimer’s disease or another neuro-degenerative disease that caused similar memory problems, and the others were still mentally sharp.

They looked for amyloid plaques in the participants’ brains before measuring inflammatory markers in their blood and proteins produced by gut bacteria such as lipopolysaccharides and short-chain fatty acids.

They discovered that those with the most brain plaques also had the highest levels of inflammation and proteins. “Our results are indisputable,” said researcher Moira Moarizzoni. “Certain bacterial products of the intestinal microbiota are correlated with the quantity of amyloid plaques in the brain.”

It’s already known that Alzheimer’s patients have a gut microbiota that’s out of balance and with less bacterial diversity than a healthy person. Lipopolysaccharides, proteins on the membrane of bacteria that cause inflammation, are often found in amyloid plaques and vessels around the brain in Alzheimer’s patients.

It’s an important breakthrough, but we still have a way to go, the researchers caution. The optimum bacterial cocktail needs to be formulated, and a special type of prebiotic that feeds the ‘good’ bacteria in the gut has to be identified. Even then, the therapy is probably only going to be preventative and may have only a limited impact on people already with Alzheimer’s, especially if it’s at an advanced stage.

But understanding the process could at least mean that early detection will be possible.

(Source: Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, 2020; 78: 683-97)

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