In a related post, New Alzheimer’s Test, Dr. Perlmutter looked at the striking correlation between the amount of beta amyloid in the brain and the degree of cognitive impairment in Alzheimer’s patients.
Alzheimer’s and Herpes Link
Assuming beta amyloid is produced in response to an infectious agent, logically we would want to examine the evidence supporting the role of infection in Alzheimer’s disease.
Over the past several years, compelling evidence has surfaced linking herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV1) to Alzheimer’s disease.
In 2008, Canadian researchers Luc Letenneur and Karine Peres demonstrated a dramatic increase in antibodies directed against HSV1 in Alzheimer’s patients compared to age-matched individuals without the disease.
Professor Ruth Itzhaki from the University of Manchester has explored the relationship of HSV1 to Alzheimer’s disease in great depth. In her landmark article published in 2008 entitled "Herpes Simplex Virus Type 1 in Alzheimer’s disease: The Enemy Within," Dr. Itzhaki revealed that HSV1 infects the brains of 90 percent of adults.
If HSV1 causes Alzheimer’s, this high rate of infection would be a necessary characteristic in light of the very high prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease.
Further, she points out, HSV1 can remain latent in the nervous system lifelong and may undergo periodic reactivation causing persistent brain inflammation.
As an example, HSV1 is the cause of recurrent fever blisters that occur when the virus gets activated in the brain.
Undoubtedly the most compelling evidence linking HSV1 to Alzheimer’s disease comes from her recent discovery of HSV1 DNA actually located exactly within the beta amyloid plaque, the so-called "hallmark" of the disease.
So compelling are these findings that Dr. Itzhaki has concluded, "Our present data suggest that this virus is a major cause of amyloid plaques and hence probably a significant etiological factor in Alzheimer’s disease. They point to the usage of antiviral agents to treat the disease and possibly of vaccination to prevent it."
The FDA’s likely approval of technology allowing the quantification of beta amyloid in suspected Alzheimer’s patients will clearly provide a valuable tool in defining the cause of dementia in cognitively impaired individuals.
But focusing on ridding the brain of this protein may be treating the smoke while ignoring the fire. Indeed, the evidence now suggests that beta amyloid protein may very well represent a positive response in the brain’s attempt to deal with a viral infection.
Proving the role of HSV1 in Alzheimer’s disease could be as simple as treating a group of patients with readily available antiviral medication. Dr. Itzhaki recently sent me an email indicating she stands ready to get this research underway, but as is so often the case, funding the study remains a challenge.
David Perlmutter, M.D., FACN is recognized internationally as a leader in the field of nutritional influences in neurological disorders. A board-certified neurologist, Dr. Perlmutter is the author of bestselling books including Power Up Your Brain: The Neuroscience of Enlightenment and The Better Brain Book .
Dr. Perlmutter has appeared on 20/20, Larry King Live, CNN, Fox News, Fox and Friends , the Today show, The Oprah Show, and The Early Show on CBS. He serves as medical director of the Perlmutter Health Center in Florida and is an adjunct instructor at the Institute for Functional Medicine.
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