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Drugs Prevent and Treat Alzheimer's in Mice, But What About You?

Alzheimer's disease prevention and treatment

Fear of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias is high among many people, and for good reason: currently there are no drugs to that can effectively prevent or treat the disease. But scientists have found drugs that could make these goals possible, at least in mice. But what about you and your loved ones?

How did the mice respond to the drugs?

Calling the study’s findings “extremely encouraging mouse data,” the study’s lead author, Christian Pike of the University of Southern California Davis School of Gerontology and his team used mice engineered to develop this most common form of dementia to test the drugs. Known as TSPO (translocator protein) ligands (hormones or drugs that bind to a receptor), the drugs increase the production of steroid hormones, such as testosterone, estrogens, progestogens, and glucocorticoids, and are used in some types of neuroimaging.

The research team discovered that the TSPO ligands were effective in reducing physical evidence (pathology) of Alzheimer’s and also resulted in an improvement in behavior in both young and older adult mice that were treated. Of special interest was the fact that four treatments of the drugs caused a significant improvement in both pathology and memory behavior in older mice.

This finding suggests TSPO ligands may reverse Alzheimer’s and be helpful as a treatment for dementia. Since researchers are currently studying the use of TSPO ligands for treatment of anxiety and other conditions, “there is a strong possibility that TSPO ligands similar to the ones used in our study could be evaluated for therapeutic efficacy in Alzheimer’s patients within the next few years,” according to Pike.

What can you do now about Alzheimer’s?
Until experts come up with a definitive way to prevent and treat Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, there are a number of conventional and alternative/complementary options available. However, none of these suggestions have been shown to stop or prevent the disease.

Among the alternative/complementary suggestions are the use of omega-3 fatty acid DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), curcumin, vitamin E, vitamin D, grape seed extract, and caffeine. These natural supplements have shown varying degrees of effectiveness in temporarily alleviating symptoms.

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Diet is believed to play a role in the development of Alzheimer’s disease. The Mediterranean diet has been shown to help reduce the risk of developing memory problems and dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease.

When looking at diet, be sure to include foods rich in vitamin D (e.g., salmon, enriched orange juice), because they have been suggested as a preventive move. In addition, zinc-rich foods such as oysters, wheat germ, cocoa, pumpkin seeds, and peanuts are good sources of zinc.

Physical exercise has been noted as a way to help slow progression of Alzheimer’s disease. Research indicates that exercise helps preserve connections in the brain and enhances brain functioning.

Another commonly reported way to fight Alzheimer’s disease is to keep your mind active. Learning new things (e.g., learn a new language, try a new hobby, take music lessons) and stimulating the mind daily by reading, doing puzzles, solving problems, and engaging in creative tasks can help keep the neural connections active.

What the new study means
As Pike noted, the mouse data gathered in this latest study was “extremely encouraging,” and they provide an impetus for researchers to explore how TSPO ligands work to reduce the pathology of Alzheimer’s disease. Whether these drugs can effectively prevent and treat Alzheimer’s disease in people is not known, but it’s the direction toward which scientists are moving.

Barron M et al. Ligand for translocator protein reverses pathology in a mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease. Journal of Neuroscience 2013; 33(20): 8891

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