Could Alzheimer’s Be an Autoimmune Disease?

Prominent neurologist awarded grant to research Alzheimer’s as an autoimmune disease

Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia; according to the Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s disease accounts for up to 80% of dementia cases.

Although little is still known about this disease, which causes significant loss of memory and other cognitive abilities, the most well-accepted hypothesis is that Alzheimer’s is caused by the build up of a protein called beta amyloid. When too much beta amyloid is accumulated in the brain, toxic clumps of the protein, called plaques, can form. These plaques are believed to be the culprit for Alzheimer’s; as a result, recent clinical trials have aimed to find a way to target and reduce the amount of plaques in the brain.

However, a prominent neurologist and medical researcher from Toronto, Ontario, Canada has put forth a new hypothesis on the development of Alzheimer’s. Dr. Donald Weaver theorizes that beta amyloid is actually a normal part of the brain’s innate immune system, and is there to kill bacteria and serve as a messenger protein. When the body’s immune response is triggered by an infection, trauma, or exposure to noxious substances, brain cells are triggered to release beta amyloid.

The problem arises, however, when beta amyloid mistakes brain cells for bacteria, and begins to kill these cells instead. This leads to fragments being created in the brain, which go on to trigger the continued release of beta amyloid. The result is a self-perpetuating cycle of releasing beta amyloid and killing more brain cells, resulting in a chronic disease.

Dr. Weaver’s theory on Alzheimer’s as an an autoimmune disease has garnered the attention of the medical community. He has been awarded the silver Oskar Fischer Prize, a grant worth US$400,000 from the University of Texas at San Antonio, to pursue research related to his theory.

Dr. Weaver believes that by exploiting the body’s natural way of controlling the immune system, Alzheimer’s symptoms can be reduced, and the disease could even be prevented. He commented, “If we accept the fact that Alzheimer’s disease is an immune-based disease that has certain triggers, then I think that we need to go back and revisit the risk factors.” Examples of risk factors include air pollution, head trauma, and genetic susceptibility.

Ultimately, Dr. Weaver’s research represents hope for a new way of tackling Alzheimer’s disease. Even more exciting is that Dr. Weaver’s research may have applicability beyond Alzheimer’s to other neurological conditions as well, such as Parkinson’s, Multiple Sclerosis (MS), and Encephalitis.

Jenny Hsieh, director of the University of Texas at San Antonio’s Brain Consortium, believes it’s important to provide researchers the opportunity to pursue ideas that are outside the box. “We just need people to be able to work on different ideas…because the bottom line is all of the current approaches to Alzheimer’s disease [are] not working.”

To learn more about Dr. Weaver and his work, visit: www.weaverlab.ca

Is There a Genetic Cause of Lupus?

Gabriella Piqueras, a 16-year-old Spanish girl living with lupus.
Gabriella Piqueras is a 16-year-old girl living with lupus in Madrid, Spain. Her DNA may be the key to finding a genetic cause for this debilitating autoimmune disease. Image courtesy of El Pais.

Researchers have long pondered whether there is a genetic cause of systemic lupus erythematosus, known as lupus for short. Lupus is a systemic autoimmune disease that occurs when the body’s immune system attacks its own vital organs and tissues, resulting in widespread inflammation and debilitating symptoms. Now, researchers have discovered a genetic mutation in a young patient, whose DNA may be the key to finding a cure for the disease that affects at least 5 million people worldwide.

One Girl’s Case My Help Solve the Mystery

Gabriella Piqueras, a 16-year-old teen from Madrid, is the center of a new research study published in Nature magazine. Ever since Piqueras was five years old, she has suffered from debilitating symptoms, like constant bruising and bleeding beneath her skin. She was admitted to a hospital in Madrid for treatment, where she was diagnosed with lupus as the cause behind her painful symptoms.

Piqueras’ DNA was recently studied by Carola Garcia de Vinuesa, a leading immunologist at the Francis Crick Institute in London. In the study, it was discovered that she had a genetic mutation on her DNA that activates the TLR7 receptor in her cell’s membranes. This receptor activation normally causes immune cells to recognize and attack threatening viruses, but in Piqueras’ case, it causes her immune cells to attack her organs and tissues instead.

Discovering a Genetic Cause for Lupus

After discovering the genetic mutation in the patient’s cells, researchers modified the DNA of mice in a lab at Australian National University in Canberra. As a result, the mice went on to develop lupus. Lead researcher Garcia de Vinuesa commented on the study, saying: “It was already known that this receptor appeared to be activated in lupus patients, but no one knew if it was a cause, a consequence or a side effect of inflammation. Now we can show that it is the cause.”

The discovery of the TLR7 receptor as a genetic cause of lupus is significant. Not only does it show that genetics can lead to development of the disease, it could also explain why 90% of lupus patients are women. Garcia de Vinuesa explains that the instructions for making TLR7 are located on the X chromosome on our DNA. Since women have two X chromosomes on their DNA, and men only have one, women are significantly more likely to develop the disease.

Environmental Factors May Also Play a Role

Maria Galindo, a Madrid-based rheumatologist, states that although the study’s findings are important, it’s also important to consider the environmental causes of lupus as well. She explains that there is “a base of genetic susceptibility that, in the presence of external stimuli, triggers an exaggerated autoimmune reaction.” She concludes, “Everything indicates that the TLR7 pathway is very important, but it is not the only one.”

While more research is required to understand both the environmental and genetic factors behind lupus, this Spanish study sheds light on the chronic autoimmune disease that is often referred to as a ‘cruel mystery’. With more scientific research into lupus, more treatments can be developed to help the 5+ million people living with the disease worldwide. And for patients like Gabriella Piqueras, that could make all the difference.

Top 5 Anti-Inflammatory Foods

If you suffer from autoimmune disease or other auto-inflammatory conditions, then you’re no stranger to inflammation. According to the Cleveland Clinic, inflammation is defined as the process by which your body activates your immune system to fight off bacteria, viruses, and toxins, and to heal damaged tissue. However, if your body sends out inflammatory cells when you’re not sick or injured, you may have chronic inflammation. Excessive chronic inflammation is what underlies many chronic health conditions, from rheumatoid arthritis to systemic lupus erythematosus.

While modern medicine may turn to pharmaceuticals like NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), steroids, or immunosuppressants, patients are increasingly turning to natural products with anti-inflammatory properties to help them prevent damaging inflammation and reduce existing inflammation. In this blog post, we explore 5 anti-inflammatory foods that can help you fight chronic inflammation.

1. Manuka Honey

Manuka Honey from New Zealand

Honey has long been used in traditional medicine for its healing properties. But did you know that manuka honey sourced from New Zealand has such powerful anti-inflammatory properties that it was approved for wound treatment by the FDA?

What sets manuka honey apart from other types of honey are the properties methylglyoxal (MG) and dihydroxyacetone (DHA) which give manuka honey its supreme quality and purity. These properties have been shown to have various health benefits, including protecting against gastric ulcers, inhibiting influenza viruses, soothing sore throats, and treating antibiotic-resistant infections.

Manuka honey is known to be expensive, since it’s exported almost exclusively by New Zealand in limited supply. Check the label to ensure your honey is certified manuka honey, and not a blend of honeys from various countries.

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2. Coffee

Coffee Anti-Inflammatory

Are you surprised by number two on this list? While technically not a ‘food’, coffee beans have polyphenols and other anti-inflammatory properties and bioactive compounds like chlorogenic acids, cafestol, kahweol, and caffeine. These compounds have shown in a few studies to reduce inflammation. A 2015 study found that coffee consumption reduced 10 markers of inflammation among regular coffee drinkers. Those who saw the greatest benefit drank 3-4 cups of coffee per day.

Keep in mind that while coffee has been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects, coffee can mess with your sleep patterns, especially if you drink it late in the day or are caffeine-sensitive. And, since sleep is an important factor in your overall health and wellbeing, it’s something to consider.

The long and short of it is, you can enjoy your cup of Joe (in moderation, that is)!

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3. Turmeric

Turmeric Health Benefits

Turmeric is root vegetable-derived spice with a vibrant, yellow hue. The spice is commonly used in Middle Eastern and South Asian cuisine, and has been used in traditional medicine thanks to curcumin, a bioactive compound with anti-inflammatory benefits.

In a 2006 study of patients with autoimmune ulcerative colitis (UC), patients who took 2 grams of curcumin a day, along with prescription disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drug (DMARD), were more likely to stay in remission than patients who took the prescription medication alone. This suggests that curcumin may help to prolong remission periods for patients with chronic inflammation.

Other research studies on the health benefits of turmeric have shown that curcumin improves memory, lessens pain, fights free radicals, combats depression, helps prevent cancer, and lowers one’s risk of heart disease. That’s a lot of benefits for a spice!

Turmeric and curcumin powder are extremely versatile and can be added to curries, soups, stews, meat marinades, roasted vegetables, rice, eggs, baked goods, smoothies, teas, milk, and more.

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4. Olive Oil

According to Harvard Health Publishing, an anti-inflammatory diet should include olive oil. As this article by Healthline explains, olive oil is rich in monosaturated fats, and has been shown to reduce one’s risk of heart disease and brain cancer in scientific research.

One 2014 study found that the group that followed a Mediterranean diet and consumed an extra 50mL per day of extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) significantly decreased their inflammatory markers over the course of 12 months. This is likely because olive oil contains an antioxidant called oleocanthal, which has been recognized as a naturally occurring non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), similar to manmade ibuprofen.

Researchers Lisa Parkinson and Russell Keast concluded: “It is plausible that low, chronic doses of a naturally occurring NSAID such as oleocanthal may attenuate inflammation over time, and may then contribute to significant reductions in the development of chronic inflammatory disease.”

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5. Green Tea

Green tea has long been enjoyed in Eastern traditions for its earthy flavor since the Tang dynasty in 618-907 AD.

More recently, research has found that drinking green tea has been associated with a reduced risk of heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s, obesity, and other serious health conditions. Many of these benefits have been attributed to green tea’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, especially epigallocatechin-3-gallate, known as EGCG for short. EGCG inhibits inflammation by reducing pro-inflammatory cytokine production and damage to the fatty acids in your cells.

Plus, green tea makes a great alternative to other anti-inflammatory beverages, such as coffee, that still provides a jolt of caffeine for your morning routine.

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Are you surprised by any of these top 5 anti-inflammatory foods and beverages? Which is your favorite anti-inflammatory foods out of the ones above? Let us know in the comments below!