Last Updated: April 15, 2019
Alzheimer’s disease is on the rise in the developed world, more so than other nations. But why? Research finds a direct correlation between good hygiene and increased rates of Alzheimer’s.
It turns out that cleanliness may not be quite next to godliness after all. This news may prove that it may be better to stick to regular soaps — rather than chemical-laden antibacterial kinds — and not make such a fuss about every germ. Those bacteria and germs may be good for you after all.
Good Hygiene and Increased Rates of Alzheimer’s
As soon as my mom found out the children next door had chicken pox when I was five, she sent me over there to play. I still remember the terrible itchiness that I experienced when I broke out in red bumps after I’d contracted it from them almost immediately. Our parents used to recognize that exposure to germs was actually good for strengthening our immune systems. Recent studies show that has changed.
Research from the Oxford Journal has found a strong link between sanitized, wealthier countries and a higher rate of Alzheimer’s. This study, led by Dr. Molly Fox across 192 countries, suggests that the lack of exposure to bacteria creates a poorly developed immune system, leaving your brain at risk for inflammation. Exposure to microorganisms — both good and bad — is vitally important for the body to develop proper immune responses.
The researchers “hygiene hypothesis” conclude that since increasing global urbanization at the turn of the 19th century — the populations of many of the world’s wealthier nations have seen very little exposure to the so-called ‘friendly’ microbes which “stimulate” the immune system due to “diminishing contact with animals, feces and soil.”
This reduced level of contact with bacteria and other kinds of infectious agents might stall the proper development of important elements of the body’s immune system, such as white blood cells. The team also suggests that developing Alzheimer’s might be linked to autoimmune disease, in which the body’s immune system attacks itself.
“Alzheimer’s disease shares certain etiological features with autoimmunity,” the study states. “Prevalence of autoimmunity varies between populations in accordance with variation in environmental microbial diversity.” The researchers add:
“Exposure to microorganisms may improve individuals’ immunoregulation in ways that protect against autoimmunity and we suggest this may also be the case for Alzheimer’s.”
New Research on Alzheimer’s, Antibiotics and Bacteria
The research offers no definitive guidance at this point, but the awareness does lend some hope.
“The increase in adult life expectancy and Alzheimer’s prevalence in developing countries is perhaps one of the greatest challenges of our time,” Fox says. “Today, more than 50% of people with Alzheimer’s live in the developing world and by 2025 it is expected that this figure will rise to more than 70%.”
Fox adds: “A better understanding of how environmental sanitation influences Alzheimer’s risk could open up avenues for both lifestyle and pharmaceutical strategies to limit Alzheimer’s prevalence. An awareness of this by-product of increasing wealth and development could encourage the innovation of new strategies to protect vulnerable populations from Alzheimer’s.”
More recently, researchers have taken a closer look at the importance of bacteria and hygiene for better brain health.
One of those researchers is the University of California at San Francisco psychiatrist, Steve Dominy, who studies neurocognitive disorders in people who are HIV positive. From his studies of the blood-brain barrier and the neural health of people with AIDS, Dominy believes he has detected a link between a specific type of bacteria and dementia. Researchers are not yet disclosing the specific type of bacteria they believe may be responsible for dementia.
Last summer, Dominy co-founded Cortexyme, which has raised over $2.5 million to further investigate his idea, dubbed “bacterial neuro-degeneration.” Casey Lynch, co-founder and CEO of Cortexyme is excited about the unconventional approach to Alzheimer’s research saying, “A-beta has been the focus of billions and billions of dollars and a huge amount of research. Really 95% of the money has gone into this target but most of the studies are failing, so I was excited about a novel approach.” She went on to say:
“So we set out to do a number of experiments to prove to ourselves and the rest of the community, that this was indeed a credible theory and that we could develop treatments targeting it. The first thing we did was look at as many human brains as we could get our hands on. So far we’ve looked at 43 Alzheimer’s patients and every single one of them has this bacterial protease [enzymes that breaks down proteins] in their brain.”
She said that some healthy participants also showed small levels of the bacteria, which lead researchers to believe they may be at risk to develop Alzheimer’s later in life.
From here, researchers hope to find a way to shut down the bacteria, which is known to be antibiotic resistant. Cortexyme hopes to develop a drug that can protect neurons from the bacteria while also disabling it, without destroying it which could lead to toxins being released in the brain.
What You Can Do to Stay Healthy
But, don’t stop washing your hands just yet. Soap remains one of the modern world’s most effective and simple inventions for keeping myriad illnesses at bay. With that in mind, however, it’s a good idea to revert back to the good old-fashioned regular hand soap rather than the anti-bacterial kind. Triclosan, for example, is found in many antibacterial soaps and can cause a chemical reaction that leads to cancer, not to mention when we use it, it gets dumped right back into our water supply.
Above all, keep it simple when using everyday soap and avoid all the unnecessary chemicals whenever you can.
Do you or a loved one have a favorite milled soap with natural scents, like lavender or lemon verbena? Now might be a great time to find a lovely, organic soap to use to stay healthy.
What else can you do to help your parent or senior loved one maintain good hygiene? We’d like to hear your suggestions in the comments below.