Dementia: Dr Sara on benefits of being in nature
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Dementia is a devastating condition and means of prevention are urgently needed. A new study has found that toxic fatty acids could be blamed for brain cell death and an increased dementia risk.
Cells which normally nourish healthy brain cells called neurons release toxic fatty acids after neurons are damaged, a new study in rodents has shown.
This phenomenon is likely the driving factor behind most, if not all, diseases which affect brain function, including the natural breakdown of brain cells seen in ageing, researchers say.
Led by researchers at NYU Grossman School of Medicine, the new investigation provides what they say is the first evidence that tissue damage produces two kinds of fats, long-chain saturated free fatty acids and phosphatidylcholines.
These fats then trigger cell death in damaged neurons, the electrically active cells that send messages throughout nerve tissue.
In the study published in the journal Nature, showed that when researchers blocked fatty acid formation in mice, 75 percent of neurons survived compared with only 10 percent when the fatty acids were allowed to form.
“Our findings show that the toxic fatty acids produced by astrocytes play a critical role in brain cell death and provide a promising new target for treating, and perhaps even preventing, many neurodegenerative diseases,” said study co-senior author Dr Shane Liddelow.
Dr Liddelow added that targeting these fats instead of the cells which produce them may be a safer approach to treating neurodegenerative diseases because astrocytes feed nerve cells and clear away their waste.
“Stopping them from working altogether could interfere with healthy brain function.”
He also noted that while healthy cells are not harmed by the toxins, neurons become susceptible to the damaging effects when they are injured, mutated, or infected, contagious, misfolded proteins which play a major role in mad cow disease and similar illnesses.
Perhaps in chronic diseases like dementia, this otherwise helpful process goes off track and becomes a problem, the study authors said.
The researchers next plan is to explore safe and effective ways to interfere with the release of the toxins in human patients.
“Our results provide what is likely the most detailed molecular map to date of how tissue damage leads to brain cell death, enabling researchers to better understand why neurons die in all kinds of diseases,” concluded Dr Liddelow.
The findings offer hope for advanced treatment for conditions including glaucoma, Alzheimer’s and other brain diseases.
Early symptoms of dementia include:
- Memory loss, which is usually noticed by someone else
- Difficulty communicating or finding words
- Difficulty with visual and spatial abilities, such as getting lost while driving
- Difficulty reasoning or problem-solving
- Difficulty handling complex tasks
- Difficulty with planning and organising
- Difficulty with coordination and motor functions
- Confusion and disorientation.
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