The sixth leading cause of death in the United States, Alzheimer’s disease kills more people than prostate and breast cancer combined according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Alarmingly, while deaths from heart disease declined by 11 percent from 2000 to 2015, deaths from Alzheimer’s disease skyrocketed by 123 percent. Shockingly, recent research studies have revealed the extremely common herpes virus may be the cause of at least half of Alzheimer’s disease cases.
According to the World Health Organization, as many as 3.7 billion people under the age of 50 have the herpes simplex virus type 1, HSV-1. This amounts to roughly 67 percent of the world’s population. Typically transmitted through mouth-to-moth contact, HSV-1 often doesn’t result in a person experiencing any symptoms. However, it can lead to unsightly, painful blisters, cold sores, forming on your face.
Frighteningly, you can’t be cured of the herpes virus once you contract it. It lies dormant in your body waiting to strike again when you’re run-down. By the age of 60, most people have been infected with HSV-1.
Unfortunately, HSV-1 isn’t the only type of herpes virus. An estimated 417 million people between the ages of 15 and 49 suffer from HSV-2, a sexually transmitted disease affecting the genitals. Newsweek reported that Ruth Itzhaki, a professor in the Division of Neuroscience and Experimental Psychology at the University of Manchester, United Kingdom, has been studying whether a correlation between the herpes virus and Alzheimer’s disease exists for more than 20 years. On October 19, 2018, her compelling latest findings were published in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience.
In a statement about her research, Itzhaki proclaimed, “HSV1 could account for 50 percent or more of Alzheimer’s disease cases.” The University of Manchester Professor informed Newsweek, “Despite the involvement of a virus, the [Alzheimer’s] disease is apparently not contagious.”
In a past research study, Itzhaki discovered people who have the gene variant APOE-e4 had more severe effects from the herpes virus. She learned that each reawakening of HSV-1 could slowly deteriorate the brain until the devastating symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease occur. Her research team has detected HSV-1 in the brains of older people.
Itzhaki’s findings come on the heels of several other studies linking the herpes virus to Alzheimer’s disease. According to Healthline, two papers published this past winter by Taiwanese researchers concluded that severe herpes infections heightened patients’ risks of getting dementia.
A separate team of Taiwanese researchers published another study this year. In it, they discovered a similar risk linked to severe infections of a different strain of the herpes virus. Interestingly, this study also found anti-herpes medicines prevented the onset of dementia in a whopping 90 percent of patients.
In June of 2018, researchers at Arizona State University and the Icahn School of Medicine in Mount Sinai in New York published an intriguing study. During the research, the team analyzed the brains of deceased patients who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, the most prevalent form of dementia. They discovered raised levels of herpes virus in their brains compared to people who hadn’t had Alzheimer’s disease.
The director of scientific programs and outreach for the Alzheimer’s Association, Keith Fargo, expressed to Healthline, “I think the science is still out. The idea that there is a causal link is plausible, but there’s not yet scientific consensus.”
Proving the association would involve requiring anti-herpes treatments or vaccinations to be dispensed. Then, because dementia typically develops late in life, the participants would need to be tracked for a lengthy amount of time. Thankfully, Fargo revealed to Healthline that two studies are currently being developed in the United States that hope to accomplish this worthwhile task.
Besides the HSV-1 and HSV-2 herpes simplex viruses, the recent studies have also focused on the human herpes viruses HHV-6A, 6B, and 7. The odds are good you likely contain one or more of these strains. Regarding their prevalence, Fargo commented, “Not 100 percent, but close. Probably everybody you know has a type of HSV virus.”
Concerning efforts to link the herpes virus with Alzheimer’s disease, Itzhaki stated, “It’s been a very uphill struggle all the time, but at least now people are agreeing.” Fargo referred to the association between herpes and dementia “a burgeoning field of inquiry right now”, after being on the “fringe” of medical research for so many years.
If research continues to affirm the link, Itzhaki believes keeping dementia at bay could one day be like taking statins to decrease cholesterol in advanced age. In the meantime, you should strive to do other things believed to decrease dementia risks such as eating healthy foods, exercising regularly, controlling your blood pressure levels, not smoking, and not drinking excessively.