islamabad - A breakthrough in Alzheimer’s research reveals that an abnormal build-up of fat droplets in the brain may cause or speed up the disease.

The finding promises to open new avenues in the search for a cure or new treatments. The researchers note how, for the first time since 1906, when Dr Alois Alzheimer first described the disease that takes his name, they found accumulations of fat droplets in the brains of patients who died of the disease. They have also identified the type of fat.

Initially, the team was trying to find out why the brain’s stem cells - which normally repair brain damage - appear to be inactive in Alzheimer’s disease.

They were astonished to find fat droplets near the stem cells in the brains of mice bred to develop a form of Alzheimer’s disease.

First author and doctoral student Laura Hamilton says she and her colleagues realized that Alzheimer himself had noted the presence of fat build up in patients’ brains after they died. This was dismissed and largely forgotten, however; at the time, the biochemistry of the fat was too complex to study.

According to the World Health Organization, there are 48 million people worldwide living with dementia - a general term for loss of memory and other mental abilities serious enough to interfere with daily life. Alzheimer’s disease accounts for two-thirds of dementia cases.

The team went on to compare the brains of nine patients who died from Alzheimer’s disease with the brains of five people who did not die of the disease. They found significantly more fat droplets in the brains of the patients with Alzheimer’s disease.

Then, using advanced mass spectrometry, the researchers identified the fat deposits to be triglycerides enriched with specific fatty acids, which can also be found in animal fats and vegetable oils. The team believes the finding could prove to be a missing link in the field of Alzheimer’s research.

Senior author Karl Fernandes, a CRCHUM researcher and professor at the University of Montreal, explains: “We discovered that these fatty acids are produced by the brain, that they build up slowly with normal aging, but that the process is accelerated significantly in the presence of genes that predispose to Alzheimer’s disease.”

The researchers found that the brains of mice predisposed to the disease build up these fatty acid deposits at 2 months, which in human terms would be the early twenties.

“Therefore, we think that the build-up of fatty acids is not a consequence but rather a cause or accelerator of the disease,” Prof Fernandes says. The team says inhibitor drugs that are already being tested for metabolic diseases such as obesity, can block the enzyme that produces these fatty acids and stop them accumulating. Tests on mice predisposed to the disease confirmed this. Prof. Fernandes concludes:

“The impact of this treatment on all the aspects of the disease is not yet known, but it significantly increased stem cell activity. This is very promising because stem cells play an important role in learning, memory and regeneration.”

The risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease doubles every 5 years after the age of 65. In line with this, a study that Medical News Today covered recently shows that the brain’s ability to clear away a toxic protein fragment associated with the disease is much reduced in older people.

Eating steak as good for heart as giving up smoking

Eating a small steak every day could be as good for you as stopping smoking, scientists say.

People who eat lots of protein-rich food were found to have lower blood pressure and more healthy arteries, significantly lowering the risk of heart attack and stroke. Scientists say the benefit is down to amino acids - the building blocks of proteins - which help strengthen the cells, tissues and muscles in our body.

The people who ate high levels of certain amino acids saw benefits on similar scale to those expected for stopping smoking, reducing salt intake or increasing exercise.

The team, from the University of East Anglia, said that protein-rich foods including meat, fish, dairy produce, beans, lentils, broccoli and spinach all contain the beneficial compounds.

Eating a 75g portion of steak a day, a 100g fillet of salmon or a pint of skimmed milk would help ward of heart disease, they said.

The researchers investigated what foods the women ate, focusing on seven different amino acids. Those who consumed the highest amounts of amino acids had lower measures of blood pressure and arterial stiffness - major causes of heart attacks and strokes.

Different food source had different benefits, they found. Amino acids from vegetables and pulses - such as beans, lentils, broccoli and spinach - were associated with lower blood pressure.

Whereas amino acids from dairy, meat and fish were linked to lower levels of arterial stiffness. Lead researcher Dr Amy Jennings, from UEA’s Norwich Medical School, said: ‘This research shows a protective effect of several amino acids on cardiovascular health.

‘Increasing intake from protein-rich foods such as meat, fish, dairy produce, beans, lentils, broccoli and spinach could be an important and readily achievable way to reduce people’s risk of cardiovascular disease.

Results from previous studies have provided evidence that increased dietary protein may be associated with lower blood pressure.

‘We wanted to know whether protein from animal sources or plant-based sources was more beneficial – so we drilled down and looked at the different amino acids found in both meat and vegetables.’

The team studied seven amino acids: glutamic acid, leucine, and tyrosine, which are found in high levels in meat and dairy; and arginine, cysteine, glycine and histidine, which found in certain green vegetables and pulses.

Dr Jennings said: ‘The really surprising thing that we found is that amino acid intake has as much of an effect on blood pressure as established lifestyle risk factors such as salt intake, physical activity and alcohol consumption.

For arterial stiffness, the association was similar to the magnitude of change previously associated with not smoking.’

High blood pressure is one of the most potent risk factors for developing cardiovascular disease. 

A reduction in blood pressure leads to a reduction in mortality caused by stroke or coronary heart disease. So changing your diet to include more meat, fish, dairy produce and pulses could help both prevent and treat the condition. Beneficial daily amounts equate to a 75g portion of steak, a 100g salmon fillet or a 500ml glass of skimmed milk.