Bugs in the Brain (8/25/13)
Want to avoid cardiovascular disease? One way is to keep your gums healthy.
Teeth gnash, bite, rip and shred the foodstuffs that let us live. And the gums that support them are necessary to keep the critters in those foods from making us sick.
But gums also become ill. About 30% of adults have rather significant gingivitis- gum disease with associated recession of the teeth. Dental health is critical to overall health.
Because bacteria like to move – anywhere they can reach. The bacteria in your gums flush into your blood with necessary flossing and brushing. And when organisms enter the bloodstream, they can go everywhere.
Gum disease means more heart attacks and strokes. Supposedly this is the result of “inflammation” rather than direct pathogenic attacks on tissue.
But could infected gums also help cause dementia?
A Bacterial Post Mortem
Dentists are very aware teeth live close to the brain. The amount of time and effort they spend learning the anatomy and physiology of the head puts most allopathic medical training to shame.
So a group of British dentists wondered if gingivitis causing bacteria might be found in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. They tested for three different species through antibody analyses. Then they the Alzheimer’s brains with those of people who died without suffering dementia.
What Did They Find?
Four of the ten dementia patients possessed antibodies to one of the bacteria, porphyromonas gingivalis. No one else’s brains did.
Should The Bacteria Have Been There?
No. Bugs should not be in the brain.
Why Were They There?
Good question. The blood brain barrier keeps much stuff out – including lots of drugs doctors would love to put inside brains that are variously infected, have suffered stroke, or are growing tumors. The brain is particularly inhospitable to bacteria. Yet people with Alzheimer’s don’t have the best immunity, and some of the porphyromonas might have reached inside the skull through ineffective immunity. They might have acted as “hitchhikers” who managed to get through the blood brain barrier when Alzheimer’s was already well developed.
Another alternate explanation is that they got there early, and that made it easier for Alzheimer’s disease to develop. Recent studies of fusobacteria have found they can act as promoters of early stage colon tumors.
Could Gum Bugs Help Cause Alzheimer’s In Other Ways?
Certainly. Alzheimer’s is more common when people have cardiovascular disease. When people experience high blood pressure or diabetes they are more likely to get Alzheimer’s Disease. Since infected gums increase overall cardiovascular risk, they should also increase the risk for dementia – even if gum bacteria never get inside the brain.
What Can You Do For Prevention?
You want to control blood pressure. Perhaps most of the population should take low dose aspirin to decrease overall inflammation – including that which occurs with infected gums. And you want people to have clean teeth and healthy gums – which is a public health problem.
What Happens to Teeth As We Age?
Gum disease gets more common, as does tooth decay. Much of it is not from aging itself, but from poor dental hygiene. Even dentists don’t always brush more than once a day. Flossing is something lots of people prefer not to do.
Junk food is not beneficial to hearts, brains, or teeth. It’s often a big problem getting older folks to floss and brush. And dementia patients, especially those in nursing homes, often don’t have someone to help them brush – even when electric toothbrushes lie handily nearby. Most staff profess they have no time to help them floss – even if they’re interested in helping.
So older people get far more gum disease, which sets them up for more cardiovascular disease, which makes them get more strokes, heart attacks and dementia.
What Can Be Done?
First, teach people to brush properly. In the old days dental hygienists told people to brush roughly and “toughen” the teeth. That advice has probably caused much misery and shortened untold lives.
Next, flossing and brushing need become habitual. That means coupling them with something else people do habitually – like eating. Twice a day is probably a good start – after breakfast and dinner.
Third, newer electronic toothbrushes that vibrate off plaque and bacteria appear fairly effective in combating gum disease. The small increase they cause in global warming may be compensated by less pain and better overall human health.
Teeth are important to overall health – including brain health. Clean and keep your teeth well and all the other parts of your body – yes, all of them – should benefit.
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