Could Youthful Blood Improve Symptoms of Alzheimer’s?

If I told you that youthful blood could potentially have rejuvenating effects on the brain — would you think that I recently watched one too many Halloween films?

I know, it sounds a little too futuristic, but according to a new study, this odd concept could offer potential value within the scientific community.

Young Blood and Elderly Human Brains — Fact or Fiction?

When researchers first announced that ‘young blood’ led to improvements in older mice, the science community and the general public began to take notice. More specifically, it was said that these elderly mice became smarter.

Based on these findings, researchers were interested in the potential effects on human brains. This would involve taking plasma from youthful blood and infusing it into elderly patients with neurodegenerative conditions — which leads to the first burning question.

Could young blood really offer rejuvenating, youthful effects?

Well, based on the first study of its kind, the answer certainly isn’t black and white. So, to answer that question, I’d have to say maybe — but the answer could just as easily be maybe not.

Finding ‘hints’ that this treatment improved basic functioning among elderly individuals with Alzheimer’s, patients were shown to improve their ability to complete tasks such as paying bills and making breakfast.

In comparison, cognitive functions, such as memory or attention did not improve.

A Summary of the Study

Overall, in terms of the hype, the treatment in question produced minimal benefits. To better understand the research, here’s what the study entailed:

  • This trial was led by Stanford neurologist, Sharon Sha.

  • 16 people with mild or moderate Alzheimer’s were given weekly injections of young plasma (from 18- to 30-year old male donors). According to their caregivers, they performed slightly better in regards to daily tasks.

  • When the participants took a cognitive test, however, they did not show any signs of improvement.

  • Regardless, the sponsor of these trials were encouraged to continue this research, utilizing a larger sample size.

Of course, there are many possible explanations for what was reported by the caregivers, including a potential placebo effect — however, it’s important to keep an open mind.

Moving forward, the sponsor of this trial, Alkahest, would like to launch another trial. This time, they would like to use the portion of blood plasma that contains growth factors — not coagulation factors. In addition, they’d like to test a range of doses and include patients who suffer from more severe cases of Alzheimer’s.

What Other Potential Treatment Options Are Currently Being Tested?

If you follow Alzheimer’s research, you know that there are new, interesting studies being published each and every week. Although the objectives within each study differ, many have focused on potential treatment options.

There are, of course, an array of medications on the market, but these tend to treat various underlying symptoms. In addition, the last time a new medication was approved by the FDA in regards to Alzheimer’s treatment, was in 2003. That may soon change, however.

Currently, there are approximately 400 clinical trials that are focusing on potential Alzheimer’s treatments. Many of these trials are based on the effects of amyloid-beta, while others reflect various potential theories in terms of this disease’s development and prognosis.

Although drugs and supplements are certainly a key area of interest, non-pharmaceutical strategies are also being tested. These include possible interventions such as exercise, acupuncture, behavioral therapy, and much more.

Regardless of the approach, it’s important to discuss what many of these strategies are targeting — amyloid. Considered to be a key factor within the development of Alzheimer’s, this protein can undergo a process that results in amyloid-beta — a toxic component of plaques.

Once amyloid-beta begins to stick together, it forms clumps, resulting in an inflammatory reaction. Over time, this leads to neural cell death and symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. As you’d expect, medications have been developed to target the accumulation and effect of amyloid-beta within the brain.

These medications have yielded mixed results, often leading to more questions than answers. From the effect of tau protein to the influence blood sugar has on the brain, there are many possible explanations — which have led to many potential treatment trials.

Early Detection Matters

I would love to be able to tell you to do this… and not do that… but the reality is, we simply do not know enough to effectively prevent Alzheimer’s disease, 100%.

I have discussed proactive options time and time again, focusing on heart health, diet, and even stress, which can all help reduce your risk — but there are still many questions that have yet to be answered.

On that note, I want to discuss the importance of an early diagnosis, and what that could mean for your quality of life and overall prognosis.

If you’re thinking, well, there’s no cure, why does it matter? Know that an early diagnosis is most certainly beneficial in a number of ways.

Based on advances in technology, we are able to detect key biomarkers in people who are cognitively normal. In fact, possible warning signs can begin to surface decades before significant memory loss becomes apparent. Although theories are still being tested, it is the hope of researchers that early testing, will lead to early lifestyle changes, reducing the degree of brain damage later in life.

From a potential retinal scan to experimental smell tests, it turns out that we may be able to detect this disease well in advance. Until these early tests are readily available, be aware of your current level of functioning. There is a range of early warning signs, including:

  • Memory loss that interferes with daily functioning

  • Issues problem solving

  • Problems completing familiar tasks

  • Difficulty when communicating with others

  • Becoming confused regarding time and place

  • Withdrawal from social or work-related activities

You can access useful apps, such as BrainTest, which can help you test your current level of cognition. From there, you can speak about your results with a physician and ideally, a specialist.

On that note, I want to leave you with something that Tan Le said, “You don’t just wake up one day with dementia or Alzheimer’s, these conditions are developmental.”

I always say be PROactive in relation to your health — but in some cases, you need to be REactive. The sooner you seek medical assistance regarding any abnormal symptoms, the better.


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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