Some 47.5 million people around the world suffer from Alzheimer's, while 7.7 million new diagnoses are made every year, according to the World Health Organization. While this degenerative neurological disease previously had no cure, startling new evidence has arisen to indicate that it’s actually caused by a rogue fungus wreaking havoc on the brain.
Dementia’s root cause is not well-understood by modern science, however, a contributing factor is thought to be proteins in the brain becoming tangled and laden with plaque, causing them to become misshapen. These misshapen proteins then accumulate in between nerve cells, leading to their destruction and the presence of voids in the sufferer’s brain.
While it's likely that the accumulation of these proteins is merely a result of aging, there’s a significant number of neurological researchers who now believe that dementia is actually caused by external factors. Research suggests that dementia could be triggered by anything from bacterial and viral infections, to head injuries and even smoking.
A research paper published in the Scientific Reports journal, however, has added another distinct possibility to this mix. Luis Carrasco, who led the research team at the Autonomous University of Madrid, has raised the possibility that Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia, is actually caused by a fungal growth.
The team examined brain tissue from 25 cadavers, 14 of which belonged to people who were Alzheimer’s sufferers during their lifetimes. The other 11 cadavers belonged to people who were not Alzheimer’s sufferers.
Although that does sound like a small sample for a study, the researchers’ findings were simply overwhelming. They found that every single one of the cadavers of Alzheimer’s sufferers was found to have signs of fungal cell growth in their neurons. On the other hand, none of the Alzheimer’s-free cadavers exhibited such signs.
The next question to answer following these incredible findings is whether the fungal growths causes the disease, or whether the disease causes the fungal growths. One fact that is known in modern medicine is that untreated fungal infections progress slowly, and so does Alzheimer’s. Furthermore, Alzheimer’s patients exhibit signs of inflammation and an aroused immune system – symptoms that could also be caused by a fungal infection.
Another correlation that arose as a result of the study was that Alzheimer’s patients suffer from damaged blood vessels, and Dr. Carrasco’s team saw evidence of this in the cadavers of Alzheimer’s sufferers, which they studied.
It must be said that all this evidence is far from conclusive, and requires a great deal of further investigation. It would be incredible news if fungal infections did turn out to be responsible for causing Alzheimer’s. This is because there are many existing anti-fungal medications in modern medicine, and these could be tried to see if they could be turned into anti-Alzheimer’s drugs.
There’s one other obstacle to overcome. It’s a known fact that in some unlucky families, genes that can mutate are carried in its members. If a fungal infection was the ultimate cause of Alzheimer’s, then those genetic mutations would have to make their carriers so susceptible that 100% of them would end up with an infection.
Nevertheless, this is still promising news, giving hope to all those who suffer from this debilitating ailment. In the meantime, we'll just have to hope that these initial findings lead researchers down a positive path for the benefit of all who suffer from Alzheimer's.
Content Source: The Economist