Alzheimer’s disease is a neurocognitive disorder that causes a slow and progressive decline in some specific intellectual abilities. It can manifest in short-term memory loss, as well as impaired reasoning, difficulty in managing complex activities, poor judgment, language impairments, and the inability to recognize common objects and faces.
The scientific world is constantly looking for solutions to mitigate its effects and find a definitive cure, and numerous clinical trials are still ongoing. Recently, a group of scientists led by Fernanda de Felice, a researcher from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, discovered that the irisin hormone could have protective effects on the brain from Alzheimer’s disease and dementia in general.
Irisin is produced by human muscle tissue during physical activity. Among the effects of this hormone is the conversion of white fat cells, one of the two types of adipose tissue, into brown fat cells:making lipid reserves more readily available for energy use. This physiological process would thus decrease the accumulation of body fat, and help fight obesity and diabetes.
On the other hand, the work carried out by Fernanda de Felice and her team, confirmed that irisin promotes the integrity of nerve cells, and prevents their degeneration. They led laboratory investigations on mice; and chemically blocked the hormone to analyze its effects on memory and synapses, despite injections of beta-amyloid, which can cause Alzheimer’s disease if it accumulates. This allowed them to see how the memory of mice regressed in a similar way to sedentary mice, showing cognitive and memory deficits similar to those produced by Alzheimer’s. In the continuation of the experiment, irisin was administered into the mice and as expected, cognitive deficits disappeared.
This is why this hormone could represent an antidote against senile dementia, to prevent it or to stop an already ongoing cognitive decline. In fact, the observed results open doors to other possible studies about the interaction between molecular synthesis and the irisin cycle, which can reduce the effects of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.
The work of Fernanda de Felice and her team supports a study published in Neurology, and carried out by James Blumenthal and other researchers from the Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina. According to this study, exercising regularly keeps the brain young. In particular, research has shown that practicing aerobic activities three times a week, such as brisk walking, running, swimming, or cycling, can rejuvenate the brain by about nine years.
The sample consisted of 160 individuals aged 65 and over who led a sedentary lifestyle, and suffered from memory loss, decision-making, and mental organization problems (classic symptoms of cognitive decline and/or early Alzheimer’s). The subjects were divided into various groups and the intervention group was instructed to engage in physical activity. The groups that exercised 3 times per week (45 minutes of physical activity, divided into 10 minutes of warm-up and 35 minutes of treadmill running) showed improvements in cognitive functions and executive skills: the ability to decide, reflect, organize, and complete a task. The researchers also determined that these improvements are comparable to a 9-year brain rejuvenation. Further studies will be needed to better understand the relationship between physical activity, irisin, and cognitive skills.
By Fondazione Valter Longo Onlus editorial staff
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Romina Inés Cervigni
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