Tears hold clue to Alzheimer’s test and the potential for earliest treatment

Tears hold clue to Alzheimer’s test and the potential for earliest treatment
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I think we all worry about whether we’ll end up with Alzheimer’s.

While genetic testing can gauge your risk, as the Alzheimer’s Association says, “Risk genes increase the likelihood of developing a disease but do not guarantee it will happen.”

So, basically it still leaves you waiting and wondering.

Now in a perfect world, you might choose to take everything that’s known to lessen the odds for Alzheimer’s and get to work easing your concerns.

But, truth be told, like most of us, you may take the gamble and put off healthy lifestyle changes until a diagnosis is staring you in the face.

But what if a simple test could reveal if Alzheimer’s earliest indicators, amyloid beta and tau plaque, were already invading your brain?

A new study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease reveals researchers are on the heels of such a test — right now…

Biomarkers of Alzheimer’s show up in unexpected place

Researchers at Boston Medical Center knew that diagnosing and starting treatment for Alzheimer’s before symptoms began was key to managing the disease.

That’s because by the time symptoms appear, it’s usually too late for current treatments to have any meaningful effect.

So, they knew they needed to find a way to test for the amyloid-beta and tau plaque deposits that appear on the brain years before the earliest symptoms.

Unfortunately, the diagnostic capability of brain scan technology, with the exception of a very few locations across the county, does not clearly pick up the plaque deposits on the brain.

There was previous research that had shown low levels of the plaque proteins could be identified in cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) taken during lumbar puncture (spinal tap) tests.

But this kind of testing is not only expensive, it’s painful and can result in CSF leaks that cause a host of symptoms form severe headaches to heart problems.

Related: 8 great nutrients to keep your brain from short-circuiting

There had to be a better way…

So, the researchers set out to find it, using samples of eye fluid in patients who were having eye surgery… and there it was.

Patients with eye fluid that showed low levels of those amyloid-beta and tau proteins also had lower scores on cognitive tests. In fact, according to the researchers, the association was significant.

“These findings could help us build an accessible, and minimally invasive test to determine Alzheimer’s disease risk, especially among patients with eye disease,” said Lauren Wright, MD, first author on the study and ophthalmology fellow at BMC. “We noted that some of the participants who had low levels of protein biomarkers in their eye fluid already had signs of mild to moderate dementia based on their cognitive scores.”

A pinch of prevention is worth a pound of cure

So, while the eye fluid test isn’t widely available today, it’s not far off.

This means that instead of wondering or worrying that your memory is slipping away, or hoping that your friends and family will notice that changes in your behavior or abilities are reason for concern, hopefully you’ll be able to find out once and for all if you need to break out all the stops to avoid Alzheimer’s disease progression.

In the meantime, it’s like my grandmother always said — a pinch of prevention’s worth a pound of cure. If you’re still hesitant about the urgency of working now to avoid Alzheimer’s later, you should look at your family tree, including 1st, 2nd and 3rd degree relatives to see how they impact your risk.

Then, to lessen the odds, take these steps:

  • Get enough deep sleep – Study after study has linked poor or too little sleep to higher levels of beta and tau proteins in the brain.
  • Exercise – According to Dr. Gad Marshall, associate medical director of clinical trials at the Center for Alzheimer Research and Treatment at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital, 30 minutes of moderately vigorous aerobic exercise three to four days per week is key.
  • Follow a brainy diet – Studies show that eating a Mediterranean diet, including plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, olive oil, fish, nuts and legumes can help slow or even prevent Alzheimer’s progression. But the MIND diet focuses more closely on foods with proven brain benefits.
  • Take brain-supporting nutrients – A whopping 64 separate clinical studies have demonstrated that phosphatidylserine may be the top nutrient to guard against memory loss. PS acts like “brain food,” improving cognitive function and rolling back mental decline.

The good news is, according to Dr. Michael Cutler, genes that code for a disease expression can be partially or completely turned off — or on — based on one’s lifestyle and environment. You’ve still got time to make changes.

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