Alzheimer’s May Be Connected to an Immune System Fail

April 15, 2015

A new discovery is shedding light on one of the most devastating diseases of our time.

New research from Duke University suggests that Alzheimer’s disease could be caused in part by a malfunctioning immune system.

The study found that in mice affected by Alzheimer’s disease, immune cells in the brain actually consume arginine, an essential nutrient. Normally, these immune cells protect the brain from infection, so their mutation is hugely significant.

The most exciting part of this study? Researchers were able to stop the immune cells from attacking the arginine with a drug, preventing memory loss and other symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.

This is an entirely new theory about Alzheimer’s—scientists previously thought the degenerative brain disease was linked to brain damage caused by a hyperactive immune system. The study’s authors hope to conduct similar tests on mice with advanced stages of Alzheimer’s disease next.

“We see this study opening the doors to thinking about Alzheimer’s in a completely different way, to break the stalemate of ideas in AD,” senior author Carol Colton said in a statement. “…We have to look at other things because we still do not understand the mechanism of disease or how to develop effective therapeutics.”

The study’s authors were also quick to point out that consuming more arginine from supplements or foods like red meat and dairy products will not prevent Alzheimer’s. No matter how much of this amino acid you consume, only a small amount makes it to the brain.

For the 5.3 million Americans diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, this study and any progress towards a cure is hopeful news. Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, and currently can’t be cured or prevented.

That said, scientists also recently discovered that your diet can reduce your likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers found patients who followed the MIND diet lowered their risk for this degenerative disease by up to 53 percent. Even though modern medicine still can’t pinpoint the exact cause of Alzheimer’s, eating brain healthy foods is certainly a step in the right direction.

Illustration by Karley Koenig

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Annalise Mantz

Annalise is a foodie, Brussels sprouts lover, grammar nerd, and political pet aficionado.

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