Could better oral hygiene prevent Alzheimer’s dementia (AD), the most common form of dementia? Some scientists seem to think so. It’s all in a new study, published in Science Advances magazine.
The study, led by Stephen S. Dominy, a scientist from Cortexyme, Inc., a San Francisco-based pharmaceutical company, suggests that gum disease could be what’s causing AD.
For the study, Dominy and researchers from a number of universities from across the world examined brain tissue from both AD patients and neurologically normal individuals. The team found genetic material from P. gingivalis—the primary bacteria associated with gum disease—in the cerebral cortex of the AD patients. They also identified two toxic enzymes associated with P. gingivalis in more than 96 percent of the Alzheimer’s brain samples they used, which were taken from the area of the brain used for memory. Scientists say the findings could change things as we know it when it comes to AD.
Who Will Get Alzheimer’s?
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, the number of Americans living with Alzheimer’s is growing rapidly. An estimated 5.7 million Americans of all ages had Alzheimer’s in 2018. While the majority of Alzheimer’s patients are 65 and older, there are approximately 200,000 individuals under age 65 who have younger-onset Alzheimer’s.
The risk of getting AD doubles every five years after age 65, according to the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America.
What Causes AD?
AD occurs when the brain cells responsible for memory and other functions start to die, according to Healthline. After decades of study, scientists still haven’t been able to nail down the cause of AD, nor do they have a cure in sight.
Up until now, scientists have found that people with AD have accumulations of two proteins in their brains: beta-amyloid (discovered in 1984) and tau (discovered in 1986). But researchers don’t know yet if high levels of beta-amyloid and tau cause AD or if they’re just symptoms of having the disease.
Billions of dollars have been spent on research chasing treatments related to beta-amyloid and tau protein levels in the brain—with little progress, according to an article in New Scientist magazine. This latest research connecting P. gingivalis to AD could add some new hope.
“When science converges from multiple independent laboratories like this, it is very compelling,” said Casey Lynch in the New Scientist article. Lynch is also from Cortexyme.
Bryce Vissel, professor of neuroscience at the University of Technology in Sydney, Australia, who recently conducted a review of AD research to date, came to the conclusion that there isn’t sufficient data to suggest that “amyloid has a central or unique role in Alzheimer’s,” according to New Scientist. “The bacteria in the brain are not the result of Alzheimer’s, but they could be the cause,” Vissel said.
Vissel also told New Scientist that Alzheimer’s is a complex disease. “The answer is unlikely to be one-cause-fits-all,” he said. “We need to keep open eyes.” However, he called the new research, “very exciting.”
Diana Manos is a Washington, DC-based freelance writer who specializes in healthcare, technology and wellness. She is passionate about patient empowerment, natural healing methods and alternative healthcare.