Elephants’ Biology May Hold Key to Understanding Alzheimer’s

By Lynn Allison – Re-Blogged From Newsmax Helth

We all know the saying that “elephants never forget.” Well there could be a very good reason why they maintain magnificent memories.

According to an article in Fortune magazine, elephants may hold the key to unlocking the secret cause of Alzheimer’s disease.

Currently, the research varies. Some experts believe that it’s the beta-amyloid proteins that drive the disease by sticking to and eventually killing neurons. Others point to the neurofibrillary tangles, or twisted tau proteins, that accumulate between the neurons in the brain. And many says that both these factors come into play to cause this devastating disease that’s the sixth leading cause of death in America.

Image: Elephants' Biology May Hold Key to Understanding Alzheimer's

There is also some evidence that sleep cycles may play a role in the development of Alzheimer’s.

During periods of sleep protein particles are naturally discarded by the neurons, like cleaning house. Evidence shows that people who are sleep deprived can experience an increase in stray protein by as much as 5 percent in certain brain regions after only a single night of sleep deprivation. Added to this phenomenon, it’s been shown that Alzheimer’s disrupts the sleep cycle so the process becomes a vicious circle.

And to further confuse the research, the latest drugs designed to clear amyloid plaque from the neurons have not been proven effective. So what’s really causing the deterioration of the brain?

Enter the elephant into the room. According to Fortune, the brains of African elephants are nearly three time larger than our human brains, holding as many as 257 billion neurons compared to our 100 billion.

But elephants seem to have extraordinary memory capacity even later in life, according to University of Virginia professor Michael Garstang, who details this trait in his book, Elephants Sense and Sensibility. He writes that “herd matriarchs remember discreet far away locations visited many decades earlier, for example, and transfer that knowledge to the next generations.”

Scientists have also noted that elephants do not suffer from mental decline.

“The handful of brains in older elephants that have been examined post-mortem, show no evidence of amyloid plaque,” writes Clifton Leaf, in Fortune.

Elephants also sleep very little — about two hours a night — which means that they don’t have a lot of time to clear out the plaque, if that theory holds true.

Some scientists theorize that elephants’ brains may have some biological mechanism that keeps them young for decades. But another interesting theory, one that supports current Alzheimer’s prevention tips, is that these herd animals are hugely social.

They congregate for life in tightly knit family networks, in multigenerational herds.

And many human studies have supported the proposition that strong social connections reduce the risk of cognitive impairment in humans while on the flip side, isolation makes mental deterioration worse.

Author Leaf says this also may be part of the reason Alzheimer’s deaths have been rising in the U.S., increasing an incredible 123 percent between 2000 and 2015.

“It may reflect our frayed social fabric—and lack of intergenerational contacts among families today—as much as it does some biological or chemical driver of the disease.

“Give your mom or dad, or aunt, or older neighbor a call today and shoot the breeze,” he suggests. “Who knows? You may end up doing more to fight Alzheimer’s than many pharma execs.”




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