Dementia refers to different types of diseases which affect the brain – the four main types are Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, lewy body dementia and frontotemporal dementia. Among the most-recognised symptoms are memory loss, difficulty concentrating and being confused about time and place. But these signs aren’t always easy to spot. Now, new research has suggested that analysing the content of someone’s stomach could provide vital clues to a person’s likelihood of developing dementia.
The make-up of bacteria and other microbes in the gut may have a direct association with dementia risk, suggests the preliminary study.
Researchers studying the mix of bacteria and microbes in the intestines – known as gut microbiota – have found the “bugs” impact risks for diseases of the heart and more.
The Japanese team studied faecal samples of 128 people, some with dementia, and found differences in the components of gut microbiota in patients with the memory disorder.
They said the discovery suggests that what’s in the gut influences dementia risk much like other risk factors.
The analysis revealed that faecal concentrations of ammonia, indole, skatole and phenol were higher in dementia patients compared to those without dementia.
But levels of Bacteroides – organisms that normally live in the intestines and can be beneficial – were lower in dementia patients.
Study author Dr Naoki Saji, Vice Director of the Centre for Comprehensive Care and Research on Memory Disorders in Japan, said: “Although this is an observational study and we assessed a small number of the patients, the odds ratio is certainly high suggesting that gut bacteria may be a target for the prevention of dementia.”
The findings are due to be presented at the American Stroke Association’s International Conference in Hawaii next week.
Dr Sara Imarisio, Head of Research from Alzheimer’s Research UK, added:
“It can be a little surprising to discover that bacteria in the gut could affect the health of our brains, but there is a growing body of evidence that supports this link.
“While these new results reveal differences in the makeup of gut bacteria between people with and without dementia, this study doesn’t tell us if these directly impact a person’s dementia risk. We will need to wait until the researchers publish their full findings before we can tell what further insights we can glean from this study.
“Research into the links between gut bacteria and dementia risk is gaining momentum, and it is among the topics being explored by scientists at the UK Dementia Research Institute, the country’s largest dementia research initiative.
“Unpicking the microscopic details underpinning gut-brain interactions could open the door to new ways to help maintain a healthy brain into old age.
“The make-up of gut bacteria is influenced by both genetics and our lifestyle, so it is one of a number of potential dementia risk factors that we could influence by leading a healthy life.
“To maintain a healthy brain as we age the best current evidence suggests that we keep physically fit, eat a balanced diet, maintain a healthy weight, not smoke, only drink within the recommended limits and keep blood pressure and cholesterol in check.”
While there’s no cure for dementia, recent research found regular aerobic exercise boosts the grey matter of all adults – and the benefits increase with age.
Even climbing the stairs improve the sinking skills of students, say scientists. But the positive effect of physical activity is most dramatic after we reach our 60s – and may reduce the risk of dementia.