Healthy heart may help prevent Alzheimer’s by improving cerebrospinal fluid flow

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle through exercise and a balanced diet has long been recognized as a way to keep blood vessels flexible, which is crucial for efficient blood circulation throughout the body, including the brain. Recent research from the University of Copenhagen, as published in Nature Neuroscience, sheds light on an additional benefit of this lifestyle: it can enhance the flow of cerebrospinal fluid in the brain, potentially reducing the risk of brain diseases like Alzheimer’s.

The essence of this recommendation – a healthy diet, regular exercise, and moderate alcohol consumption – is deeply rooted in history. However, there’s now a compelling reason to adhere to these guidelines. The study emphasizes that preserving the flexibility of blood vessels, known as vascular dynamics, plays a pivotal role in maintaining brain health. Many neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s, often begin with diminished vascular dynamics.

These vascular dynamics play a crucial role in propelling cerebrospinal fluid through the glymphatic system, a vital mechanism that aids in clearing waste products from the brain during its activity. If this system falters, it increases the risk of conditions such as Alzheimer’s and dementia.

As we age, it’s typical for microvascular changes to make blood vessels less pliable. This reduced elasticity impairs their ability to expand and contract efficiently. However, by staying physically active, we can preserve a healthy vascular system, ensuring that blood vessels remain flexible and capable of facilitating cerebrospinal fluid movement. This approach may hold promise in preventing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Although this study was conducted on mice, the researchers believe that these findings are likely applicable to humans. Similar research in humans has already indicated that changes in blood volume can influence cerebrospinal fluid flow, highlighting the importance of blood vessel flexibility in brain health.

The blood vessels are the most important

The initial findings didn’t provide clarity on whether it was neuronal activity (the activity in brain neurons) or increased blood flow that propelled cerebrospinal fluid. To address this question, researchers conducted experiments to separate neuronal activity from blood vessel function using a precise method.

What’s particularly significant in this study is that the researchers independently activated blood vessels without involving neurons. This unexpected discovery highlights that it’s the blood vessels themselves that can propel cerebrospinal fluid forward, irrespective of neuronal activity. Professor Maiken Nedergaard, one of the study’s researchers, emphasized the importance of this finding.

When the brain becomes active, more blood flows to the activated brain region, a phenomenon known as functional hyperemia. The new insights suggest that the primary role of functional hyperemia is to enhance brain cleansing.

By employing optogenetics, a technique utilizing light-sensitive ion channels, researchers could specifically activate blood vessels with light. This allowed them to isolate the effects of blood vessels from neuronal activity in the brain.

This approach enabled the researchers to determine which factor held more significance: the movement of blood vessels or the activity of neurons in driving cerebrospinal fluid forward.

The outcome of their investigation confirmed that it’s the blood vessels that are responsible for propelling cerebrospinal fluid, underscoring the importance of maintaining a healthy heart to ensure efficient blood circulation, which, in turn, supports this crucial brain cleansing process.

One more reason to take good care of your body

Currently, effective treatments for Alzheimer’s and dementia remain elusive, making the recent findings by researchers a significant stride in advancing our comprehension of these diseases and potential treatment avenues.

“As a preventive measure, this aligns with the longstanding advice for individuals to adopt a healthy lifestyle. Now, there’s an additional compelling reason to prioritize this, providing even more motivation to care for your body,” emphasizes Holstein-Rønsbo.

Moreover, this research holds promise in terms of uncovering future treatments, a field that regrettably lacks viable options. Ideally, early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s would be the cornerstone for effective interventions. In such a scenario, treatments could involve stimulating blood flow in the brain and enhancing the cleansing process, preventing the accumulation of waste products. This represents a hopeful prospect for improving the lives of patients facing these challenging conditions.

Source: University of Copenhagen

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