For years, science has told us that Alzheimer’s disease ( watch our video to fight back diabetes naturally ) is the result of the buildup of a substance called beta-amyloid. This protein forms sticky plaques in the brain, so the theory goes, where it interrupts brain cells’ ability to make connections and communicate with one another. The plaque eventually causes the cells to die and leads to the symptoms of Alzheimer’s. This is the theory that nearly all experimental Alzheimer’s treatments have been based on. If we could stop the build-up of plaque, the thinking goes, we could slow or stop the progression of the Alzheimer’s disease.
But a new study from Harvard University Medical School suggests that most of what we think we know about Alzheimer’s disease might be dead wrong. There’s compelling evidence that amyloid plaque isn’t the cause of Alzheimer’s disease at all. In fact, it’s probably the body’s attempt to protect the brain instead.
In their paper, published in the journal Science Translational Medicine, the researchers say amyloid plaque actually helps fight off bacteria and fungus. They’ve demonstrated this in mice, in worms and in cultured cells. If the same holds true in humans, it would turn Alzheimer’s research on its head. It would also put Alzheimer’s firmly in the category of autoimmune disease alongside rheumatoid arthritis and asthma. And it would mean that the current approach to Alzheimer’s treatment—reducing or eliminating the amount of amyloid plaque in the brain—is not only ineffective but actually harmful.
Under this theory, amyloid is a necessary part of the immune response. It helps to clear out pathogens and actually functions to keep the brain healthy . In the animals and cells studied for this paper, amalyoid helped neutralize invading pathogens by surrounding them and “caging” them up. But in the case of Alzheimer’s, one of two things may have happened: either the body mistakes a harmless substance for a threat, or the immune system shifts into overdrive in response to an invading pathogen such as a virus or bacteria.
This is in line with earlier research that suggests a link between Alzheimer’s and the herpes (cold sore) and chlamydia viruses along with the bacteria which causes Lyme disease. And if the theory proves true, it could mean stopping the production of beta-amyloid is exactly what we don’t want to do. Instead, we should be looking to what’s causing the immune response in the first place. And, although the idea has yet to be tested, we should be treating the inflammation associated with it.