Help: A young Alzheimer’s patient disappears in the Channel 4 drama
Currently more than 850,000 people in the UK live with dementia. Of those, between 50 and 75 percent have Alzheimer’s. If current trends continue, the Alzheimer’s Society estimates there could be 1,590,000 with dementia by 2040.
There are no effective treatments for Alzheimer’s yet.
However, a team from the University of Delaware recently found new evidence that could influence the progression of the disease.
The brains of people with Alzheimer’s experience an accumulation of a protein called amyloid beta.
This causes toxic effects in cells, resulting in reduced energy, fragmentation of the mitochondria – the power of the cell – and oxidative stress.
Alzheimer’s: The study found that worms given high amounts of B12 are paralyzed more slowly.
Memory: The disease leads to memory loss and confusion
In C. elegans, tiny ground-dwelling worms are often used to study biology and disease, accumulation of amyloid beta causes paralysis within 36 hours after they reach adulthood.
This was easily observed by scientists when the worms stopped twisting.
The team found that when fed with E. coli bacteria containing higher levels of vitamin B12, C. elegans was protected against this paralyzing effect.
The groundbreaking study was explored during a piece for BBC Science Focus magazine titled, “Vitamin B12 could protect the brain against Alzheimer’s, a faltering worm study suggests”.
ĴUS ENEN: High cholesterol: The 50p food that can lower levels
Science: Researchers have been working for years to try to curb the disease
Professor Jessica Tanis, the lead researcher on the experiment, told the publication: “The reading is black or white – the worms are either moving or they are not.
“When we gave vitamin B12 to the worms that lacked vitamin B12, paralysis occurred much more slowly, which immediately told us that B12 is beneficial.
“The worms with B12 also had higher energy levels and lower oxidative stress in their cells.”
A further study showed the team that the effect is seen only in the presence of a specific enzyme called methionine.
Parkinson’s disease: The signs in your vision [REPORT]
Lack of vitamin D: Three marks on your skin [INSIGHT]
Len Goodman health: Strictly stars in “shock” after cancer diagnosis [ANALYSIS]
Health newest: There are over 850,000 people in the UK living with dementia
C. elegans: The worms are often used to study biology and disease
They also found that adding the vitamin to the worms ’diet only helped if they were deficient in B12 to begin with.
Supplementing healthy animals with the vitamin had no effect.
Prof Tanis added: “Right now, there is no effective cure for Alzheimer’s disease.
“There are certain factors you can’t change – you can’t change the fact that you’re getting older, and you can’t change a genetic predisposition to Alzheimer’s disease.
“But one thing you can control is what you eat.
Dementia: Some of the steps you can take to reduce the chances of developing dementia
Scientific Focus: The study was explored in the latest issue of the journal
“If people could change their diet to influence the onset of illness, that would be amazing.
“That’s something my lab is excited to continue researching.”
Dr James Connell, Head of Translational Science at Alzheimer’s Research UK, who was not involved with the research, cautiously welcomed it.
He said: “The human brain is incredible, with more connections in it, known as synapses, than astronomers have estimated that there are stars in the galaxy.
Reminyl: The drug is used to treat cognitive decline in mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease
“But this complexity makes diseases that cause dementia difficult to study, so using organisms like worms can be a great way for scientists to study a disease.
“Such research in worms helps to understand the impact of possible treatment and can help accelerate the development of drugs.
“Extensive research has been done on whether vitamin B12 without pre-existing vitamin deficiency can protect against Alzheimer’s disease, with studies to date suggesting vitamin B12 supplements do not offer extra protection.
“While research into worms may support broader efforts to identify causes of disease and new treatments, clinical trials in humans are the only way to find out if possible new approaches will improve people’s symptoms.”
You can subscribe to the BBC Science Focus magazine here.