Dementia affects 50 million people worldwide, and more than 60% of cases are Alzheimer's disease. It leads to loss of memory and other cognitive activities, and although it is widespread throughout the world, there are still many gaps surrounding its origin and development.
A new study shows that Alzheimer's is not only a degenerative disease but also an infection. According to the latest evidence, it could be caused by an infection of the gums, the extent of which is still under investigation.
The idea that Alzheimer's may have an infectious origin is based on the observation that, although it mainly affects older people, it also affects people under 65 years of age. From this point on, several lines of research into the possible factors that trigger the disease are being pursued.
This is how researchers have reached the new finding: the team led by Joan Potempa, a microbiologist at the University of Louisville in the United States, has discovered that the bacterium that causes chronic periodontitis, Porphyromonas gingivalis, is present in the brains of patients who have died of Alzheimer's disease.
Chronic periodontitis is a common pathology in adults and is characterized by the accumulation of bacterial plaque on the teeth that leads to inflammation of the gums around the teeth and the gradual destruction of bone and tissue. At its maximum degree, it can even cause the detachment of the affected teeth.
Pyorrhea is caused by a bacterium, Porphyromonas gingivalis, which can also cause other health problems. Following the discovery of this bacterium in the brains of deceased Alzheimer's patients, scientists have taken a further step in linking oral infection with this degenerative disease.
To prove this, the scientists carried out an experiment with mice that were given an oral infection with the pyorrhea bacterium. It was observed that the bacteria reached the brain and produced the protein associated with Alzheimer's disease, the beta-amyloid peptide.
The exact origin of Alzheimer's disease is not yet identified, but the research opens an important road for further steps in this direction. The coordinator of the research, Stephen Dominy, assures that "infectious agents have been implicated in the development and progression of Alzheimer's disease, but the evidence of causality was not convincing. Now, for the first time, we have strong evidence linking the pathogen that causes pyorrhea to Alzheimer's disease".
During the research, it was discovered that this bacterium had produced toxic enzymes in the brains of Alzheimer's patients. These same toxins have been found in the brains of deceased people who never developed the disease, indicating that they could have had Alzheimer's disease if they had lived longer.
Now the cause-effect relationship still has to be proven, something very important in science that makes the difference between chance and causality. The doctors do not want to claim victory, but neither do they hide their satisfaction at having found yet another element to continue pulling the thread and finally discover the origin of Alzheimer's disease.
According to the authors, "the identification of these enzymes in the brains of undiagnosed Alzheimer's patients argues that brain infection with pyorrhea bacteria is not the result of poor dental care after the onset of dementia, or a consequence of the disease, but an early event that may explain the pathology found in middle-aged people before cognitive decline".
Although pyorrhea is a common infection, it often goes unnoticed. It is characterized by a series of symptoms such as purple or red coloration of the gums, special bleeding, presence of pus in the teeth, receding gums and presence of blood when brushing, sometimes accompanied by pain when chewing and bad breath.
The best way to prevent gum infection is regular oral hygiene with at least two brushings a day and the use of mouthwashes. It is also important to eat a healthy diet, without excess sugars, and to give up bad habits such as smoking. It is recommended to visit the dentist periodically to detect possible problems.
[This is a translation of the original article "El origen de los casos de Alzheimer podría estar en tu boca" published in espanadiario.net]