Your chances of developing Alzheimer’s Disease double about every five years after the age of 65, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, but after the age of 85, the odds of developing the symptoms are almost 50 percent.
As researchers around the world race to find preventative and restorative therapies, it’s already evident the incidence of diagnosis and the progressive nature of the condition looms large as a domestic and international health crisis.
The financial strain on Medicare and Medicaid alone has prompted the association to petition President Obama to establish a National Alzheimer’s Plan.
Yet the organization boldly states that the disease is not a normal part of aging.
Currently, five Federal Drug Administration-approved medications are on the market, but none of them are preventative and they only treat or manage the symptoms of the condition.
In the U.S., there are over 100 ongoing Alzheimer’s studies and there is a flurry of clinical trials taking place around the globe.
Israeli researchers are boldly standing on the frontlines of the quest to prevent its onset — which research shows is sometimes genetic, sometimes environmental, sometimes diet-connected, and sometimes trauma-related.
In 2011, the 32-year-old American Federation for Aging Research gave its New Investigator Awards in Alzheimer’s Disease, grants of $100,000 each, to two Israelis to further their Alzheimer’s-related work.
Dr. Einor Ben Assayag, the head of research in the stroke unit at the Sourasky Medical Center in Tel Aviv will use her AFAR grant money to study the saliva and cortisol (the stress hormone) of 100 first-time ischemic stroke patients for 18 months. A control group of 30 of their healthy peers will also be tested to look for any clues to the possible relationship between elevated stress and cognitive decline after a stroke.
The other grantee, Dr. Ramit Ravona-Springer, a professor in the Sheba Medical Center at Tel Ha-shomer, Israel, on the outskirts of Tel Aviv, will follow 1,400 healthy, over-65 Israeli diabetics for five years and monitor their Vitamin E levels, along with other dietary fats, every 18 months while documenting their nutritional patterns to assess their cognitive and functional abilities.
In the brain, Alzheimer’s disrupts and destroys the chemical communication between cells, which occurs at the synapse or connection. Eventually, these connections are lost and brain cells die, disassembling the brain’s communication network.
More Israeli doctors have already had results that look promising or have proven to be effective. They range from food research to gene therapies to nasal sprays.
A 2011 study at Tel Aviv University with, CEppt, the extract from cinnamon bark, slowed the formation of a harmful plaque found in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients.
Curious about the biblical priest’s ritual of using a cinnamon bark ointment after offering animal sacrifices in the Temple, Prof. Michael Ovadia in the department of zoology conjectured that it might be a means of preventing infection. He found that cinnamon bark does have anti-viral properties.
When his team gave a solution to mice and fruit flies that were genetically altered to develop Alzheimer’s for four months, their activity and longevity level equaled that of the healthy mice.
“The discovery is extremely exciting,” Ovadia told TAU staff. “Our extract would not be a drug with side effects, but a safe, natural substance that human beings have been consuming for millennia.”
Ovadia was quick to caution that the small amounts used on food would not produce the same effects as the highly concentrated solution in his study.
But if you’re a fish eater, there’s another diet-related study that shows great promise.
Prof. Daniel Michaelson from the George S. Wise Faculty of Life Sciences at Tel Aviv University found that a diet low in cholesterol and rich in Omega 3 oils significantly reduced the negative effects of the APOE4 gene, an indicator for Alzheimer’s.
“The main take-away message here is that good diets can alleviate the effects of bad genes,” Michaelson said.
The results were presented at an international conference in Barcelona in March 2011.
Another TAU researcher, Dr. Dan Frenkel from the department of neurobiology in the George S. Wise Faculty of Life Sciences, is working on a nasal spray vaccine that may repair vascular damage in the brain by eliciting an immune response in blood vessels. It may also attack those bad plaque proteins and prevent strokes in patients who already have Alzheimer’s.
The 2011 studies show that it also may prevent strokes associated with Alzheimer’s.
The results of the research are scheduled for publication in the journal, Neurobiology of Aging.