Oxidative damage to brain cells may be an important indicator of Alzheimer’s disease.

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and the Florida Institute of Technology have discovered that by measuring the amount of body tissue compounds called isoprostanes they could accurately determine the amount of neurological oxidative damage.

The study looked at tissue from 43 brains, 19 of which were known to come from patients with Alzheimer’s, 16 from patients with either Parkinson’s or schizophrenia and eight from normal controls. Isoprostane concentrations were markedly raised in samples from both the frontal and temporal poles in Alzheimer’s patients, but were normal in other samples.

The brain is thought to be particularly sensitive to free radical damage because, unlike other areas of the body, it does not contain large amounts of protective antioxidant compounds. This new study opens the door for better prevention and treatment of this disabling disorder (FASEB Journal, 1998; 12: 1247-54).

A review of one Alzheimer’s treatment has shown that the conventional drug tacrine hydrochloride probably slows down mental deterioration in Alzheimer’s patients but not enough to have an impact on their functional autonomy. The meta analysis of 12 trials showed that the cholinesterase inhibitor may help some, but it is still unclear who benefits the most (JAMA, 1998; 280: 1777-82).

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