The last five years have seen promising research and applications in the fight against Alzheimer’s. Perhaps the most interesting discovery is that of Li-Huei Tsai, Ed Boyden, and other associates (2016). Their gamma light therapy for Alzheimer’s shows promising results.
Here are some of the new things researchers have learned.
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Gamma Light and Sound Therapy
The team optically stimulated mice having Alzheimer’s amyloids using gamma light therapy. This activates certain cells in the brain called microglia. Once activated, these microglia cells take on a housekeeping role. They clean up wastes that cling to the neurons.
In her lab at MIT, Li-Huei Tsai studied both gamma frequency (40 hz) light and sound stimulation in mouse models. She found positive outcomes. It improves cognition and memory, stops neurodegeneration, and reduces the amyloid and tau protein buildups related to Alzheimer’s.
Dr. Tsai and other researchers at MIT and the Massachusetts General Hospital are now running human trials. They are using gamma light and sound entrainment. Test subjects are volunteers 55 or older who show signs of amyloid protein plaque buildup but who are still cognitively normal. This entrainment will happen daily for a year. Subjects will get regular checkups, including PET scans and other tests. Hopefully, this entrainment will work on humans, not just mice.
Also, the Alzheimer’s Association recently developed a gamma light and sound therapy app. This app works on iPhones, Apple computers, android computers, and some android phones. Users play games on the app while it stimulates them with a gamma 40 hz light and sound. The basic app is free. For a small fee, you can get an upgraded app with harder games. Many users and caretakers say it helps.
Sadly, around 99 percent of the drug approaches to fighting Alzheimer’s have failed. Obviously, the gamma light and sound entrainment is not a drug. But it still targets the same thing that drugs do: amyloid and tau proteins in the brain.
Researchers hope the outcome will be better than what drugs can offer. Time will tell.
The Role of Bacteria
Gamma light therapy isn’t the only new discovery. Lately, researchers found that bacteria may play a role in Alzheimer’s.
Several different teams of scientists have found Porphyromonas gingivalis in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. It uses two toxic enzymes to feed on human tissues. The enzymes were found in over 96 percent of the brain samples of deceased Alzheimer’s patients. These samples came from the hippocampus, the brain area associated with memory. It is interesting to note that the P. gingivalis is the chief bacterium involved in gum disease. The company Cortexyme is currently conducting human trials using a drug that targets this bacterium.
Trying to find the cause of a disease is a tricky and expensive process. This is especially true when dealing with human subjects. Cause and effect are hard to untangle. It’s important to keep this in mind when designing research.
Many researchers have focused on the amyloid and tau proteins. They think fighting them could prevent Alzheimer’s. But, it may be that these proteins are actually defenses against an attack by bacteria. If that is the case, they may not be the problem. Instead, they may build up to fight the real problem: the invasion of P. gingivalis bacteria. We know many people with lots of amyloid and tau deposits live perfectly normal lives without dementia. Hopefully, we will have meaningful results this year.
We see one common thread in Alzheimer’s, mental illness, and other diseases: inflammation. Over the last decade, researchers have studied inflammation associated with various diseases and illnesses. It involves a vast communication network in the immune system and brain. This has changed the focus of the medical profession dramatically.
We’ve noted higher rates of mental illnesses (like anxiety and depression) in people with physical illnesses. In the past, we believed this was a psychological response to the illness. But maybe it isn’t. It could be due to inflammatory signals to the brain that activate immune cells there.
One good book about this perspective change is The Angel and the Assassin by Donna Jackson Nakazawa. That’s not the only one. Edward Bullmore’s book The Inflamed Mind goes deeper into inflammation. It describes the role of inflammation and our immune system. Brain inflammation could cause many of our mental conditions.
So, how do we control inflammation? While we might not be able to stop it, we can do things to reduce it. Obviously, pain meds can help. But there are more techniques. It looks like any reduction is a plus for our body, mind, and perhaps our longevity.
Many methods of pain control are not invasive. They include meditation, virtual reality, yoga, neurofeedback, and various types of light, sound, and touch entrainment. A few procedures are more involved. They include electric patches to place on body parts that hurt, acupuncture, massage, and different supplements.
How much can gamma light therapy fight inflammation? It’s not clear yet. Thus, it’s good to try more than one strategy.
In summary, we know inflammation plays a key role in diseases and pain. Many disabled people face chronic pain. Pain and inflammation go hand in hand.
Also, we know gamma light therapy at 40 hz activates the microglia in the brain. These microglia are part of the immune system. They fight inflammation by absorbing the byproducts of the inflammatory response in the brain. Experts think many of these microglia become inactive with age. But they can be activated again with gamma frequency light or sound. Also, many of the migroglia are in the hippocampus. This part of the brain is responsible for memory formation, especially short-term memory.
Thus, all of us can likely benefit from this type of therapy. It is non-invasive and many products are cheap. They can be used as background lights, providing therapeutic benefits all the time you are exposed.