ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE CAN IT BE PREVENTED? PART 1

It is one of the most devastating diseases. It generally has a slow onset and progresses to almost total brain decay. Alzheimer’s disease according to the CDC (Center for Disease Control) stated the following:

“In 2013, as many as 5 million Americans were living with Alzheimer’s disease. The symptoms of the disease first appear after age 60 and the risk increases with age. Younger people may get Alzheimer’s disease, but it is less common. The number of people with the disease doubles every 5 years beyond age 65.By 2050, this number is projected to rise to 14 million, a nearly three-fold increase.”

This is alarming to say the least especially given the fact, that eventually anyone afflicted with this disease becomes totally dependent on the care from others. Many have a family member afflicted as do I, or know of someone or has been in the company of one who has this disease, so stating the symptoms would be somewhat redundant. What can be done to prevent this from happening in the first place? In Part 1 of this 4 part series we will discuss functions of a normal brain starting with the basic unit called a neuron.

THE NORMAL BRAIN

The brain consists of what are called called neurons. The cell body of the neuron called a soma has feathery projections called dendrites. These projections gather information from other neurons and these messages are sent down a long tube called an axon only to connect once again to another neuron across a space called a synapse where chemical fluids (neurotransmitters) are called into action. The brain contains about 100 billion of these neurons and these neurons connect to another 10,000 neurons, passing signals to each other through the synapses causing as many as 1,000 trillion connections! Equivalent by some estimates to a computer with a 1 trillion bit per second processor. Estimates of the human brain’s memory capacity vary wildly from 1 to 1,000 terabytes (for comparison, the 19 million volumes in the US Library of Congress represents about 10 terabytes of data). Miraculous to say the least wouldn’t you agree!

The ability to transmit a message via a nerve impulse, involves electrochemical activity. Chemicals (neurotransmitters) and minerals such as sodium and potassium, chloride and protein play a vital role in this action. This nerve impulse is called an action potential. Some of the major neurotransmitters that are utilized are serotonin, glutamate, dopamine, adrenaline, histamine, GABA, acetylcholine and glycine. Some neurotransmitters excite, meaning continue the message being sent, while others inhibit or stop it. Both types play a vital role in brain function.

There are other types of cells that the brain contains called glial cells (neuroglia or simply glia), the most common types being oligodendrocytes, astrocytes and microglia. Because they are so much smaller than neurons, there are up to 10 times as many in number, and different areas of the brain have higher or lower concentrations of glia. It used to be thought that the role of glial cells was limited to the physical support, nutrition and repair of the neurons (brain cells) of the central nervous system. However, more recent research suggests that glia, particularly astrocytes, actually perform a much more active role in brain communication and neuroplasticity (the ability of the brain to form and reorganize synaptic connections, especially in response to learning or experience or following injury) although the extent and mechanics of this role is still uncertain, and a substantial amount of contemporary brain research is now focused on glials cells.

In Part 2 we further explore more of the NORMAL BRAIN and speak about what begins to happen to this marvelous structure in Alzheimer’s disease.