PhotoMillions of people across the country are currently suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, and experts have yet to find a cure. However, researchers continue to conduct experiments in an effort to help patients live as comfortably as possible.

Recently, researchers from Columbia University Irving Medical Center found that exercise could help reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Exercising releases the hormone irisin, which has been linked to neuron growth in the part of the brain responsible for memory and learning.

“This raised the possibility that irisin may help explain why physical activity improves memory and seems to play a protective role in brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease,” said Dr. Ottavio Arancio.

Discovering the link

Though irisin was linked to neuron growth in the hippocampus, the researchers first wanted to see if there was a relationship between the hormone and Alzheimer’s. The findings showed that those who have Alzheimer’s have lower levels of irisin.

The researchers wanted to see how manipulating irisin would affect the brain, so they conducted a study with mice in which subjects were made to swim every day for five weeks. The mice also received injections of beta-amyloid -- a protein associated with Alzheimer’s.

The researchers noticed that the positive benefits that came from swimming were cancelled out when they blocked irisin with the beta-amyloid injections. Following this experiment, the researchers are hopeful that they can build on these findings to ultimately treat or prevent memory issues, like dementia and Alzheimer’s, in humans.

“In the meantime, I would certainly encourage everyone to exercise, to promote brain function and overall health,” Dr. Arancio said. “But that’s not possible for many people, especially those with age-related conditions like heart disease, arthritis, or dementia. For those individuals, there’s a particular need for drugs that can mimic the effects of irisin and protect synapses and prevent cognitive decline.”

Reducing risk

While this study explored the positive ways exercise can benefit memory, a recent study found that exercising regularly can help reduce fall-related injuries for those who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or dementia.

The researchers found that over 60 percent of dementia/Alzheimer’s patients fall every year, and they are two times as likely to fall compared with those who don’t have Alzheimer’s or dementia. The study found that engaging in physical activity on a regular basis can help reduce the risk of falls and subsequent injuries.

Late last year, researchers also found that drinking coffee can reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s. The study showed that properties of the compound phenylindane, which is produced during the roasting process, prevented the spread of tau and beta amyloid -- two proteins associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

“It’s the first time anybody’s investigated how phenylindanes interact with the proteins that are responsible for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s,” said Dr. Ross Mancini. “The next step would be to investigate how beneficial these compounds are, and whether they have the ability to enter the bloodstream, or cross the blood-brain barrier.”

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