New study links gut health and Alzheimer’s in world-first breakthrough

Jul 19, 2022
New data confirms link between Alzheimer's disease and gut-disorders. Source: Getty

A new study into Alzheimer’s has found that people with gut disorders may be more likely to develop the cognitive disease.

The research A large-scale genome-wide cross-trait analysis reveals shared genetic architecture between Alzheimer’s disease and gastrointestinal tract disorders conducted by Edith Cowan University (ECU) confirmed the link, saying their breakthrough could lead to early detection and possibly treatment.

Centre for Precision Health director and study supervisor Professor Simon Laws said the ECU study confirms the theory of the “gut-brain axis”.

“These findings provide further evidence to support the concept of the ‘gut-brain’ axis, a two-way link between the brain’s cognitive and emotional centres, and the functioning of the intestines,” Laws said.

Lead researcher Dr Emmanuel Adewuyi said ECU’s study is the first assessment to take a thorough examination of genetic data from Alzheimer’s disease and gut-disorder studies, involving about 400,000 people.

“The study provides a novel insight into the genetics behind the observed co-occurrence of AD and gut disorders,” Dr Adewuyi said.

“This improves our understanding of the causes of these conditions and identifies new targets to investigate to potentially detect the disease earlier and develop new treatments for both types of conditions.”

Dr Adewuyi said that further analysis found that people with abnormal levels of cholesterol are at risk of developing gut disorders and Alzheimer’s disease.

“Whilst further study is needed into the shared mechanisms between the conditions, there is evidence high cholesterol can transfer into the central nervous system, resulting in abnormal cholesterol metabolism in the brain,” Dr Adewuyi said.

“There is also evidence suggesting abnormal blood lipids may be caused or made worse by gut bacteria, all of which support the potential roles of abnormal lipids in Alzheimer’s disease and gut disorders.

“For example, elevated cholesterol in the brain has been linked to brain degeneration and subsequent cognitive impairment.”

The study’s findings on cholesterol give researchers hope that a possible treatment may be found for Alzheimer’s.

Dr Adewuyi said that pending further studies, this new data suggests medications (statins) that help lower cholesterol may be a valuable treatment for both Alzheimer’s and gut disorders.

“Evidence indicates statins have properties which help reduce inflammation, modulate immunity and protect the gut,” Dr Adewuyi said.

To further ECU’s findings, a study published in the journal Nature Genetics, provided evidence that inflammation and a person’s immune system also play a part in the development of Alzheimer’s disease.

Senior Research Fellow at Cardiff University and co-leader of the study, Dr Rebecca Sims said the study “provides exciting new targets for therapeutic intervention and advances our ability to develop algorithms to predict who will develop Alzheimer’s in later life.”

“This study more than doubles the number of identified genes influencing risk for the more common form of Alzheimer’s disease,” she said.

Researchers predict that by the year 2030, Alzheimer’s will affect over 82 million people.

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