Archive for February, 2011

Meditation is often associated with words such as relaxation, peacefulness, and calm. Researchers and scientists have for some time now endorsed the value of meditation. Not only do people who practice meditation feel calm and happy, they also report enhanced cognition and memory abilities. Although researchers at the Massachusetts General Hospital did not include those with Alzheimer’s Disease (AD), they sought to study the benefits of mindfulness meditation training and in my opinion, this can certainly apply to the AD population.

A recent study that was supported by the Institutes of Health, The Mind and Life Institute and the British Broadcasting Company studied the changes in the brain after an 8-week mindfulness meditation program. The findings from the study have been published in the Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, January 30 issue. It reports that this is the first time that changes in the brain and related improvements have been documented due to meditation over a period of time.

Magnetic Resonance Images (MRI) were taken two weeks before and after the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program Program was conducted, for both the control group and the group that practiced mindfulness meditation. This form of mediation focuses on the feelings, emotions and state of mind in a non judgmental manner. The study group conducted meditation exercises for about 27 minutes daily. Their responses to a mindfulness questionnaire showed a marked improvement when compared with those made before the study began.

MRI after the mindfulness meditation program focused on parts of the brain that have shown improvement in earlier studies. The images showed an increase in the grey matter density of the hippocampus, a part of the brain that affects memory and learning. Similarly, brain parts that are related with compassion, self understanding and introspection also increased in size.

The participants reported reduced stress and this was correlated with the reduction in density at the amygdala, the part of the brain that affects the stress and anxiety that an individual experiences. However the insula, which is believed to be associated with self awareness, did not show any changes. More research in this direction may be required.  The MRI of the control group showed no changes in the same period of time.

There is no known cure for Alzheimer’s disease, but mindfulness meditation may aid Alzheimer’s disease patients in dealing with AD more effectively. Britta Hölzel, PhD, is first author of the paper and a research fellow at Massachusetts General Hospital and Giessen University in Germany. James Carmody, PhD, of the Center for Mindfulness at University of Massachusetts Medical School is the co-author.

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Researchers at the University of South Florida’s Department of Psychiatry and the Center of Excellence for Aging and Brain Repair have discovered that the CD45 molecule, a receptor on the surface of the brain’s microglia cells (cells that support the brain’s neurons and also participate in brain immune responses) is a new focus for the prevention of detrimental immune responses which are determined as elements in the development of Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Their findings were reported in the Journal of Neuroscience.

Previous studies by the USF researchers demonstrated that triggering CD45 was advantageous because it blocked a very early step in the development of Alzheimer’s disease. In the current study, the researchers showed in Alzheimer’s mouse models that a loss of CD45 led to dramatically increased microglial inflammation.

Although the brain’s immune response is associated with Alzheimer’s disease pathology, “this finding suggests that CD45 on brain immune cells appears critically involved in dampening harmful inflammation,” said study senior author Jun Tan, MD, PhD, a professor of psychiatry and Robert A. Silver chair at the Rashid Laboratory for Developmental Neurobiology, USF Silver Child Development Center and research biologist for Research and Development Service at the James A. Haley Veteran’s Hospital.

The investigators also found a raised level of harmful neurotoxins, such as A beta peptides, as well as neuron loss in the brains of the test mice.

“In short, CD45 deficiency leads to increased accumulation of neurotoxic A beta in the brains of old Alzheimer’s mice, demonstrating the involvement of CD45 in clearing those toxins and protecting neurons,” Dr. Tan said. “These findings are quite significant, because many in the field have long considered CD45 to be an indicator of harmful inflammation. So, researchers assumed that CD45 was part of the problem, not a potential protective factor.”

The next step is to apply these findings to develop new Alzheimer’s disease treatments, said Paula Bickford, PhD, a professor in the USF Department of Neurosurgery and senior career research scientist at the James A. Haley Veteran’s Hospital. “We are already working with Natura Therapeutics, Inc. to screen for natural compounds that will target CD45 activation in the brain’s immune cells,” Dr. Bickford said.

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Statins for Treatment of Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is a disease of the brain and the most common form of dementia that causes problems with daily living, memory, thinking, and behavior.  While statistics vary, as many as 5.1 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s.  This estimate counts for as many as 70 percent of dementia cases in adults 60 or older.  While there are several recommendations for AD prevention, including reducing cholesterol, researchers have yet to find a cure for this form of dementia.  Although cholesterol lowering drugs such as statins can slow down the process of Alzheimer’s development, there is a large debate on whether these drugs are effective for reducing damage in patients with Alzheimer’s. How do statins work and how are they used in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease?

Statins are prescription drugs that are used to lower blood cholesterol levels by blocking chemicals in the liver that produce cholesterol.  While many may ask how a cholesterol lowering medication could treat Alzheimer’s, many studies have proven that statins have a positive effect in the body for those who suffer from the disease.  High cholesterol levels are recognized as one of the common risk factors that leads to the development of Alzheimer’s.  By lowering these levels early, Alzheimer’s development can be slowed.

In addition to eliminating one of the most common risk factors, statins are known to protect nerve cells against damage in the brain.  The nerve cell damage that is caused by Alzheimer’s is what leads to memory loss and difficulty comprehending.  By reducing cell damage in the brain, studies published by the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, have proven that Lovastatin prevents the death of cells in the brain to keep the brain responsive.  Laboratory studies at the University of Groningen have shown that the neuroprotective mechanism slows the progression of the disease.

While there is skepticism relating to Alzheimer’s and statins, studies have shown that if statins are administered in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, patients will not advance through the disease as quickly.  While statins are not a cure or a way to prevent the disease entirely, they are a protective measure that could have a beneficial effect.

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