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A Protein Could Treat Alzheimer’s

A new study by the University of California, San Diego published in the February 8, 2009 issue of Nature Medicine really piqued my attention. Researchers have observed positive results regarding memory loss, cognitive impairment and brain cell death which were prevented or reversed in several animal models after treatment with a naturally occurring protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). Based on animal studies, BDNF treatment could provide long-lasting protection by slowing, or stopping the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.

According to Mark Tuszynski, MD, PhD, professor of neurosciences, “The effects of BDNF were potent. When we administered BDNF to memory circuits in the brain, we directly stimulated their activity and prevented cell death from the underlying disease.” BDNF is normally produced throughout life in the part of the brain that supports memory. However, BDNF decreases when there is Alzheimer’s disease.

BDNF acts directly on dying cells in the brain connected to memory function. It prevents cellular death and improves signaling function which of course improves memory and learning. The effectiveness and safety of BDNF in animals makes it worthy of human trials.

What is fascinating about BDNF is that it works independently of amyloid plaque treatments. This means a whole different approach of dealing with Alzheimer’s. The study suggested that perhaps the two approaches of BDNF and Amyloid Plaque treatment could work together as a fusion therapy.

In my own reading I learned about BDNF when I read Dr. John Ratey’s Spark. In it he refers to BDNF as “Miracle Grow for the brain,” or for those of you who are not gardeners, fertilizer. Here’s what is exciting about Dr. Ratey’s lab work: BDNF is produced when we exercise! It is unleashed when we get our blood pumping. There is a direct link from the body to the brain. To maximize new neuron growth and improved signaling vary your work outs and make your brain work. For example, dancing to an irregular rhythm versus a regular one improves brain function. The goal is to learn new things when you exercise; in other words to challenge your brain through learning new movements. And once you learn the new movement what you have learned transfers to different types of learning in other parts of the brain.

What does all this BDNF talk mean to you? Until BDNF can be used as an official treatment in Alzheimer’s, keep exercising to prevent or delay the disease. And if you are in the early stages, keep exercising to slow it down! It’s good to challenge yourself.
For more information on caregiving read my book, Changing Habits: The Caregivers' Total Workout. To listen to archived radio shows with guest experts visit Turn On Your Inner Light Radio Show




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