Alzheimer’s disease is a memory impairment mostly seen in elderly people. Alzheimer’s Foundation of America describes the disease as “a progressive, degenerative disorder that attacks the brain’s nerve cells, or neurons, resulting in loss of memory, thinking and language skills, and behavioral changes.” Alzheimer’s has become an increasing threat to the well-being of the growing elderly population in the United States. The Alzheimer’s Foundation estimates that as many as 5.1 million Americans suffering from the disease. The organization also predicts that the number of people above age 65 and older will be more than double between 2010 and 2050 to 88.5 million which is about 20 percent of the population, and age above 85 and older will increase three-fold, to 19 million. Plus, about a half million Americans younger than age 65 have some form of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. Looking at these statistics, we could imagine the enormous cost of health care for this aging population. However, there have been a large number of extensive researches being carried out for effective preventive measures and treatment of Alzheimer’s.
Lately, researchers from the Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, have found possible targets for new therapeutic approaches. They found out that some actions of Endocannabinoid, a substance similar to the active ingredient of marijuana, could protect Alzheimer’s-related neurodegeneration to an extent through cell receptor related interactions in the brain. Endocannabinoids can inhibit the inflammatory processes of Alzheimer’s in the brain. The researchers found reduced formation of Alzheimer’s plaques in the brain when one type of endocannabinoid receptor, CB2, is expressed in the brain slices of Alzheimer’s rats.
Endocannabinoids were also found to have neuroprotective properties in the brain, that is, they could protect the brain cells from dying due to the attack by inflammatory agents or from over-excitation, that is, neurons having to work harder than necessary because of some chemical imbalance. Endocannabinoids are also involved in production of new brain cells and hence they are believed to be protective against memory impairment. Another study at Complutense University in Madrid, Spain, looked at this neuro-prtotective property of endocannabinoids. The researchers found out that endocannabinoids can block the action of microglia, a cell that is responsible for releasing inflammatory agents when activated. Hence, researches are being carried out to look at potential therapeutic means for Alzheimer’s related neural cell death by inhibiting these microglia cells.
There are also researches that focus on the anti-oxidant properties of Endocannabinoids in Alzheimer’s related cell death. Anti-oxidants are agents that inhibit the release of free radicals in the brain. Free radicals can cause cell death through subsequent chain reactions. The anti-oxidant properties of endocannabinoids can protect the neurons from attacks of free radicals and hence increase the survival of neurons in most of the brain areas that are responsible for memory formation and storage.
Thanks to the increase research findings through the efforts of dedicated researchers, we are hopeful to counteract the increasing threat of cognitive decline of our large population of elderly populations in the coming decades. Research findings could help reduce millions for the health care cost that we are going to have to face in the near future.