The health of your gums can reveal more about you than just how often you floss. Gum disease has been linked with serious health conditions, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and gut issues like Crohn’s disease. Now, according to a new study Alzheimer’s disease may be added to that list. Here are 10 early signs of Alzheimer’s every adult should know about.
The new research, published in the journal Science Advances, was done by an international team of scientists including senior researcher Jan Potempa, PhD, of the University of Louisville‘s Department of Oral Immunology and Infectious Diseases in the School of Dentistry. Previous research had established that in mice, the bacteria behind chronic gum disease, Porphyromonas gingivalis, can migrate to the brain; once there, it can contribute to the kind of damage commonly seen in Alzheimer’s disease patients—the buildup of amyloid beta plaques. Some studies have found that living with gingivitis (gum disease) for more than 10 years increases the risk of Alzheimer’s by as much as 70 percent, reports WebMD.
To discover whether the bacteria behaved similarly in humans, the researchers analyzed the brains of deceased Alzheimer’s patients as well as living ones suspected of having the disease, and the bacteria was present. The findings suggest a connection between the bacteria and Alzheimer’s—something that hadn’t been established in humans before, according to Dr. Potempa. It also suggests the “potential for a class of molecule therapies” in the treatment of the disease, though more study needs to be done, he cautions. The researchers were able to design a drug to block the bacteria from making it to the brain, and plan to begin larger tests of this treatment in patients with mild to moderate symptoms.
“The Science Advances study is far from conclusive,” cautions Rudolph Tanzi, PhD, an Alzheimer’s researcher at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, in Science News. While he suspects that Alzheimer’s is “kicked off by brain inflammation, perhaps prodded along by bacteria, viruses or fungi,” the jury is still out. “People should not be freaking out just because they didn’t floss enough. It doesn’t mean you’re going to get Alzheimer’s,” Dr. Tanzi told Science News. More study needs to be done.
Meanwhile, you’re not off the hook for flossing. No one disputes that good dental hygiene is vital to good health. Here are 11 things your dentist wishes you would start doing differently. Now, read on to learn about other diseases some scientists think may be related to Alzheimer’s.