The Theft of Dignity

Alzheimer’s disease, the most dreasded illness of the brain, is being constantly researched by the medical profession hoping to find a cure – or at least alternatively to stop its advent from getting worse.

Researchers in Spain claim that the disease could be caused by fungus growing in the brain. Yeasts and moulds were found in grey matter and blood vessels of all the dementia patients studied. By contrast, the brains of healthy people were free of fungi.

The researchers said fungal could readily explain the symptoms of Alzheimer’s and be the cause of the neurodegenerative disease.

The study is the second in a matter of weeks to question whether it is possible to catch the devastating condition, after UK research suggested it could be spread through blood transfusion, operations and even dental work.

It was previously thought that Alzheimer’s was caused by either faulty genes or a combination of bad luck and ageing.

The latest study will further fuel fears that Alzheimer’s is a wretched disease you can catch, possibly even from breathing in spores.

However, much more work is needed to confirm this theory – but the discovery could prompt much needed new treatments for a disease that has become rampant and affects at least five hundred thousand in Britain and robs people of their speech, memory and dignity.

Researchers from the Autonomous University of Madrid found several different types of fungus in the brains of eleven people who had died with Alzheimer’s. They said the range of fungi might help explain why the disease can vary so much from patient to patient.

Writing in the journal Scientific Reports, they added that if the condition is caused by a fungus, this could help explain why drug trials until now have had such disappointing results.

It also means existing antifungal drugs could turn out to be powerful weapons in the fight against Alzheimer’s.

Lead researcher Luis Carrasco said: ‘It is evident that clinical trials will be necessary to establish a causal effect. There are a number of highly effective antifungal compounds with little toxicity. A combined effort from the pharmaceutical industry and clinicians is needed to design clinical trials to test the possibility that Alzheimer’s disease is caused by fungal infection.’

However, he cautioned that his study does not definitely prove Alzheimer’s is triggered by a fungus. It is possible that fungul infection affects patients who already have the disease, with yeasts and moulds finding it easier to take hold in brains weakened by dementia.

French neurodegenerative disease expert Sylvain Lehmann described the results as ‘speculative’ and British experts were also cautious.

Dr Laura Phipps, from charity Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: ‘While this very small study suggests that fungal cells may be present in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s, we cannot conclude from this work that such infections cause or increase the risk of the disease. Without a corresponding medical history, we do not know whether the fungal infection occurred before or after the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, or whether this group of people had an increased risk of fungal infection due to other health complications. The best current evidence suggests that eating a healthy and balanced diet, not smoking, staying physically active and keeping weight and blood pressure in check can all help reduce the risk of dementia.’

Dr Clare Walton, of the Alzheimer’s Society, added: ‘Traces of fungus in the brains of these few people with Alzheimer’s is not enough to conclude that it plays a role in the development of the disease. There is still much research to be done in order to truly understand the causes of dementia.’

Of all the diseases that are likely to inflict one’s life Alzheimer’s is the one that I fear and dread the most. The body becomes almost a tool for disorder and the trashing of its surroundings. Clarity and dignity no longer matter, for awareness becomes non-existent and life, as we understand it, ceases to manifest itself.

What a calamitous end that would be…

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