A Simple Blood Test Could Change the Diagnostic Process for Alzheimer’s Patients

As we age, we begin to worry about not only our physical health, but our mental capacity as well. With approximately 5.5 million Americans currently living with Alzheimer’s disease, many are wondering — am I at risk?

More specifically, if you are at-risk, how will you know whether or not you are developing this disease?

Although there are some diagnostic tools and techniques available, based on a recent study, an experimental blood test may be the solution.

Alzheimer’s Can Only Be Diagnosed After Death

At this time, in order to obtain an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, patients need to undergo immense testing. Beginning with one’s medical history, they may then need to perform various cognitive and behavioral tests; undergo physical and neurological exams; in addition to various other tests to rule out potential causes.

In terms of a definitive diagnosis, however, Alzheimer’s can only truly be detected after death. Currently, doctors will make a judgement based on the most likely cause of one’s symptoms. Through the use of various tests, this can help determine a more clear, potential diagnosis.

Once a patient is deceased, researchers can then examine their brain, revealing hallmark plaques and tangles. When it comes to testing a patient’s blood, these lab tests are used to rule out other potential causes, such as a vitamin deficiency or a thyroid disorder.

Study Finds — Future Blood Test May Be Used to Diagnose Alzheimer’s

Based on this study, recently published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, an experimental blood test may one day support the diagnosis of degenerative brain conditions. In fact, during this study, the researchers were able to identify which patients had Alzheimer’s with up to 86% specificity and sensitivity.

  • Sensitivity = true positives

  • Specificity = true negatives

In addition, this blood test was able to distinguish Alzheimer’s from dementia with Lewy bodies, once again, with an impressive 90% specificity and sensitivity. When compared to other tests currently being developed, it appears that this test may be more accurate. This is exciting, because in terms of being so predictive, it is a simple test to administer.

For this study:

  • The researchers studied 347 participants with neurodegenerative diseases, in addition to 202 healthy control subjects. Ranging from 23 to 90 years of age, blood samples were taken from all volunteers and then examined using infrared spectroscopy.

  • With a diamond at its core, this sensor-based technology uses light to detect chemical bonds within the blood sample. In turn, these bonds not only help determine whether or not a neurodegenerative disease is apparent, but if so, which kind is present.

  • Both early cases of Alzheimer’s (80% sensitivity and 74% specificity) and later stages of Alzheimer’s (86% sensitivity and specificity) were identified using this method.

Time will tell in terms of this study’s findings, as new methods are developed and tested. At this point, the accuracy is not high enough and would likely lead to mis-diagnoses. In the future, however, the researchers hope that this test can assist in monitoring disease progression.

More specifically, in the case of athletes, this test may be able to determine the degree of one’s brain injury. With more research developing regarding post-injury brain damage in relation to football players and boxers, this would be a useful tool. After all, early intervention is critical.

Blood Test May Detect Onset a Decade Early

When it comes to testing the blood of Alzheimer’s patients, this recent study is not the first of its kind. In fact, as new technologies emerge and our level of understanding improves, blood tests are something that have been of great interest. This is due to the fact that these tests may be able to identify the onset of Alzheimer’s before symptoms arise.

Within a key study, it was found that a specific blood test may be able to detect this disease 10 years in advance. While looking at a single protein, known as IRS-1, the researchers were able to determine whether or not an individual was healthy or had Alzheimer’s.

IRS-1 plays a key role in insulin signalling, and is often defective in people who develop Alzheimer’s. In fact, it was found that those who had Alzheimer’s, displayed higher amounts of the inactive form of IRS-1 and lower amounts of the active form.

These findings showed the researchers that insulin resistance is a major abnormality within Alzheimer’s disease. Affecting the central nervous system, this is believed to contribute to cell damage. Like the more recent study above, this research is still within the early stages of development.

In order to go ahead with potential treatments, researchers will need to ensure both validation and replication. As larger, longer studies are designed and tested, they will likely uncover new clues.

The Connection Between Blood Sugar and Alzheimer’s

While on the topic of insulin, it’s important to focus on the connection between Alzheimer’s and poor blood sugar control. Often referred to as ‘type 3 diabetes’ — the development of Alzheimer’s has been linked to impaired insulin and insulin growth factor production.

This connection has been identified time and time again, including the effect of excess glucose on a key enzyme. This molecular link was uncovered at the University of Bath, showcasing the effect that high blood sugar has on MIF — an enzyme that plays a role in our innate immunity.

When MIF activity is reduced or inhibited, this is what researchers described as a ‘tipping point‘ in relation to disease progression. It was already found that this enzyme if modified within the brain, however, researchers are now investigating whether or not changes could be detected in blood.

In order to reduce your risk of both type 2 diabetes and obesity, it’s recommended that you:

  • Focus on physical exercise, helping you not only maintain a healthy weight, but boost insulin sensitivity. It’s recommended that you take part in both resistance training and aerobic exercise. Find an activity you personally enjoy — one that you can enjoy with friends.

  • Changing your diet will be the most crucial, as you begin to eliminate processed foods and consume more nutrient-dense whole foods. Of course, you should reduce your intake of sugar, but that’s just the beginning. Ensure that you are getting enough fiber in your diet, as this will help control our blood glucose, while protecting your heart.

  • Be sure to drink more water! In 2013, the average American drank eight 12-ounce cans of soda week. That’s over 38 gallons a year!

  • Combat prediabetes NOW, as this means that you are borderline diabetic. Currently, 1 in 3 Americans is suffering from prediabetes, so it’s important to discuss this with your doctor. Your number one goal will be to lose weight, based on the three tips above. Nothing beats exercise and a balance diet, so skip any fad diets that promise rapid results.

Take action before your health deteriorates, in order to protect your body and mind for years to come.

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Krista Hillis has a B.A.Sc degree, specializing in neuroscience and psychology. She is actively involved in the mental health and caregiving community, aiming to help others. Krista is also passionate about nutrition and the ways in which lifestyle choices affect and influence the human brain.

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