The sixth leading cause of death in the United States is Alzheimer’s disease. You likely know someone with, or have lost someone to this awful disease. As age expectancy rises, it can be a real concern whether you, or someone you love, is likely to develop Alzheimer’s.
The good news is that scientists and doctors are working hard to research the cause – and find a cure. Additionally, there are a number of risk factors associated with Alzheimer’s disease which you can counteract through diet, exercise, and changes to the way you sleep.
One of the risk factors may surprise you: gum disease.
I’ve written previously about the causes of gum disease, and how, if left untreated, it may contribute to cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes – and increase the risk of stroke. In the US, almost 50% of adults aged over 30 suffer from periodontitis – an advanced form of gum disease. So it’s a common health issue – but how does a problem with the mouth cause such damage to the brain?
Risk Factors Associated with Alzheimer’s
Dr Dale Bresden, who wrote the phenomenal book The End of Alzheimer’s explaining his Bresden protocol, splits Alzheimer’s disease lifestyle risk factors into three categories – toxins, nutrient and hormone deficiencies, and inflammation. For the purposes of this article, I’m focusing on inflammation.
Inflammation that contributes to Alzheimer’s can be caused by:
- Diet – foods high in trans fats, sugars, and gluten can all contribute to inflammation, which in turn can cause leaky gut. Leaky gut results in food molecules escaping into the bloodstream and beyond, inducing an immune response, and increasing inflammation in other parts of the body.
- Insulin resistance – a diet high in sugar puts your body under stress, and you produce higher amounts of insulin, but the constant flooding of insulin must be counteracted with an enzyme called insulin-degrading enzyme (IDE). IDE should be on hand to degrade amyloid, the protein that makes up the plaque in Alzheimer’s disease, but it is less effective when it is dealing with large amounts of insulin.
- Sleep apnea – combined with the genetic marker APOE4, sleep apnea increases your chances of developing Alzheimer’s, as it disrupts deep sleep and the function of your glymphatic system. Come into the Gelb Center to discuss home sleep testing which is in the comfort of your own bed. Dr. Gelb works with physicians to establish a diagnosis and treatment plan options.
- Unresolved infections – such as Lyme disease, or periodontitis. Periodontitis is a more serious, progressive form of gum disease. Gum disease (gingivitis) occurs when a bacterial infection in your gums triggers inflammation. When it progresses into periodontitis, it becomes a threat to your health in a number of ways – Alzheimer’s included.
All these inflammatory risk factors are worth bearing in mind, but one of the most surprising is the presence of gum disease in your mouth. Let’s look at the way that Alzheimer’s and dental health are connected in a bit more detail.
What Is the Link Between Gum Disease and Alzheimer’s?
Gum disease is an infection caused by specific bacteria found in the mouth, causing unpleasant symptoms like bleeding and inflamed gums. But the infection doesn’t stay in your mouth. Your gums and jaws are highly vascular, and this means it’s easy for the bacteria infection to join your bloodstream, and journey around your body. Sounds horrible – but it gets worse.
I’ve written about how the inflammation caused by periodontitis can trigger serious diseases, such as Type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. But a recent study discovered that the Porphyromonas gingivalis pathogen in chronic periodontitis is a leading cause of Alzheimer’s disease in the brain.
Through P. gingivalis is typically found in individuals with current gingival and periodontal infections, it’s also present in low levels of 25% of individuals with no oral infection. The pathogen can be spread to other parts of your body during chewing, brushing, flossing and routine dental procedures.
- gingivalis specifically affects the brain through the creation of gingipains. Gingipains are enzymes that break down proteins and peptides, and once P. gingivalis gets past the blood-brain barrier, the gingipains are able to break down the tau proteins that stabilize neurons. P. gingivalis in the brain also encourages the increase of the amyloid beta peptide (β-Amyloid peptide) strongly associated with Alzheimer’s disease, as it has an antibacterial effect – as shown in a mouse model in the new study.
Ultimately, the results of the study not only show a tangible contributor to the development of Alzheimer’s disease, but also explore a prospective treatment – using a gingipain inhibitor. These findings are exciting and revolutionary, but what can you do with this knowledge right now?
Get Checked for the Biomarker for Alzheimer’s Disease with Oral DNA Testing
At the Gelb Center, we’re pleased to advise you of our partnership with OraVital, offering you oral DNA testing to find out if you’re carrying the P. gingivalis biomarker. While this biomarker doesn’t automatically mean you develop Alzheimer’s in the future, the test can help you acknowledge the risk, and make changes to your lifestyle – putting you back in control.
We collect samples of your mouth microbiome by taking swabs of your gums, tongue, and throat. These samples are sent to the OraVital lab to be checked for high-risk pathogens, yeasts, parasites, and high concentrations of white blood cells. Their detailed report is sent back to us, and we discuss them in full with you – identifying both current health issues and factors that may contribute to future disease. Your mouth can tell you a surprising amount about your overall health – it’s up to you whether you want to listen.
If you’re concerned about gum disease in connection with Alzheimer’s disease risks, fill out our contact form, or call to make an appointment with Dr. Gelb on (212) 752-1662 to book your OraVital test. To learn more about Dr. Gelb’s AirwayCentric® approach, pick up a copy of GASP!: Airway Health – The Hidden Path To Wellness by Dr. Michael Gelb and Dr. Howard Hindin.