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Eating Fish Can Help Fight Alzheimer's Disease


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Eating fish can help fight Alzheimer's disease

Alzheimer's disease affects more than 4.5 million Americans. It is caused by brain degeneration and is marked by the death of cells, particularly the cells in the basal forebrain.

These cells are the primary source of the brain chemical messenger called acetylcholine. Alzheimer's disease impairs the production of acetylcholine, one of the main chemical messengers in the brain that is important for memory and cognitive function. The number of Americans with Alzheimer’s has more than doubled since 1980 and will continue to grow. By 2050, researchers say the number of people with the disease could range from 11.3 million to 16 million.

Currently, there are five FDA-approved medications that treat cognitive symptoms in patients with Alzheimer's disease. Four of these try to boost the brain levels of acetylcholine by blocking the enzyme that breaks down acetylcholine. The fifth drug acts on another brain chemical. However, none of the available drugs are known to change the underlying neurobiology of the disease.

Investigators at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago successfully initiated a new technique that uses gene therapy to deliver nerve growth factor into regions of the brain where neurons are degenerating. Their hope is to prevent cell death and reverse cell atrophy, two hallmarks of Alzheimer's disease.

The new technique uses the drug CERE-110. CERE-110 carries the nerve growth factor (NGF) gene encased in a harmless viral coating, which protects the gene. A key objective of the study is to deliver the CERE-110 directly to the part of the brain that is almost universally affected by Alzheimer’s disease, the basal forebrain, and not to other parts of the brain where it may cause side effects.

The osteoporosis drug raloxifene (Evista) is now being tested to see if it can stop Alzheimer's disease in its tracks and/or prevent it from progressing. Evista appears to protect brain neurons against free radical inhibitors, which can be deadly to neurons. Stanford University and Indiana University researchers are enrolling patients in the trial.

A study from the Rush Institute for Healthy Aging in Chicago found people who got the highest daily amount of niacin from food cut their risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Those who consumed 22.4 milligrams a day had an 80-percent lower risk of Alzheimer’s than those who consumed just 12.6 milligrams a day. One-half of a chicken breast or 3 oz. of beef will each give you 15 milligrams of niacin. Alzheimer’s disease is less common in populations that consume a lot of fish. Researchers are pointing to Omega-3 fatty acids as the reason.

A UCLA study published in the March 2005 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience, reveals mice that were fed diets high in DHA -- the fish oil that seems to be so helpful -- had the healthiest brains when compared to mice that consumed normal food as well as those that consumed diets low in DHA. In fact, brain imaging showed the high-DHA diet reduced brain plaque by 40 percent. DHA is one of the Omega-3 fatty acids found in cold-water fish such as salmon, herring, sardines and mackerel.

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