Skin may reveal secrets about Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s

SkinA small, early study of skin biopsies may provide clues for detecting signs of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other neurodegenerative diseases long before degenerative symptoms appear.

Scientists from the Central Hospital at the University of San Lui Potosi in Mexico theorized that since the skin and brain tissue share the same embryonic origin, perhaps by studying minimally invasive skin biopsies they could find possible links to neurodegeneration.

They analyzed skin samples from 20 Alzheimer’s patients, 17 with non-Alzheimer’s dementia, and 12 healthy people.

The results were astounding.

They found that all the patients with neurodegenerative disorders contained seven times the normal level of tau, a protein linked to mental decline, and up to eight times the amount of alpha-synuclein, another harmful protein associated with Parkinson’s disease.

In addition to early detection, the breakthrough could also lead to new treatments for the diseases by targeting those abnormal proteins, researchers said.

“Until now, pathological confirmation was not possible without a brain biopsy,” according to study author Ildefonso Rodriguez-Leyva, quoted in The Week magazine. “This new test offers a potential biomarker that may allow doctors to identify and diagnose these diseases earlier on.”

Alzheimer’s disease afflicts at least 5.4 million Americans, and Parkinson’s disease a million or more.

Known risk factors for Alzheimer’s include age and genetics. Possible/probable links are other conditions such as cardiovascular problems, Type 2 diabetes, obesity, oxidative damage, inflammation and traumatic head injuries.

However,  preliminary research strongly suggests that how we eat may raise or lower the risk of Alzheimer’s/dementia.  Recent studies have focused on populations who live longer and have fewer mental disorders and other chronic problems than Americans, with special focus on the Mediterranean Diet and olive oil.

The role of exercise is also being recognized as an important factor in mental health. For 6 years researchers followed 1,700 adults over the age of 65 with mild cognitive impairment. They found that those who exercised for at least 15 minutes a day several times a week had 40 percent less mental deterioration.

Sources: The Week, www.brightfocus.org

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