Alzheimer's is a disease that is on the rise, and people have no idea what is causing it. However, a group of dementia experts has warned that it could be triggered by the same group of viruses that causes cold sores.
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This group of scientists came from all over the world, including some from prestigious universities like Oxford, Cambridge, Edinburgh and Manchester. They published their findings in The Journal of Alzherimer's Disease. They suggest that pathogens may be the major cause of dementia and related problems.
This report will likely fuel fears that the disease is able to be passed from person to person. However, the silver lining will be that if things like bacteria and viruses do play a role in dementia, then we might be able to develop drugs to treat it - or we may even have them!
Cold sores are caused by herpes, which could be a major culprit. However, there has also been a proven link between dementia and the bacteria that causes chlamydia.
Alzheimer's is a result of built-up stick protein in the brain called amyloid plaques. This build up prevents brain cells from communicating with each other effectively, and leads to cognitive decline and memory loss. Many scientists are working to find treatments that prevent a build up like this.
Some researchers believe that if it is a viral or bacterial infection that triggers this accumulation, then it will be simple to target treat them with antimicrobial medicines.
Professor Douglas Kell, from the University of Manchester's School of Chemistry says:
"We are saying there is incontrovertible evidence that Alzheimer's Disease has a dormant microbial component. We can't keep ignoring the evidence."
About 80% of people will get HSV-1 - the type of herpes that causes cold sores - at some point, but many don't realize it.
This evidence comes from experiments on human brain cells in petri dishes. Those brains, when infect with the cold sore virus, saw a dramatic increase in amyloid plaques. However, other studies showed that the viruses and bacteria are present in the brains of most elderly people.
But Dr Simon Ridley, Director of Research at Alzheimer's Research UK points out that there is no evidence that Alzheimer's is communicable. He says:
"There is growing evidence for the role of the immune system in Alzheimer's and active ongoing research looking at how an inflammatory response might contribute to the disease. There is some evidence to suggest that infections in general could ramp up the immune system and contribute to the progression of Alzheimer's, but there isn't conclusive evidence to suggest that a particular infectious agent or microbe could be directly responsible for causing the disease."
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More research will be needed in the future, Dr. Ridley stresses.