Though tiny in size, viruses pack a big punch. Most recognize that from the various acute illnesses we face, including the recent heavyweight SARS CoV2 (which causes COVID 19). On the other hand, many may not know that viruses can contribute to long term conditions. Sure we know that some viruses can contribute to liver cancer or female cancers, but recent research is linking chronic occult viral effects with diseases like multiple sclerosis and in today’s focus article, Alzheimer’s disease.
Alzheimer’s disease appears to be increasing. Most know someone in their family or in a friend’s family who have suffered from this devastating neurologic disease. From onset to its ultimate death sentence, sufferers dwindle from their “normal” self to a shell of a personality unable to recognize family and friends. They lose the ability to remember and family loses their loved one even before death comes.
Much research has gone into they “why’s” so that maybe medicine could treat it or prevent it. While other recent research has questioned a recent study concerning the mechanism of disease progression (see recent Facebook post), this article aims to elucidate the connection between two common viruses and the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
Prior epidemiological research had revealed correlations between Herpes Simplex virus 1 (HSV-1) that causes fever blisters and Alzheimer’s disease development. Some had also suggested a link with varicella zoster virus (VZV) that causes Chicken Pox. With 3.7 billion people worldwide estimated to have HSV1 infection, many are at risk. Normally, the effects of HSV-1 on nerves cells remains asymptomatic even thought the virus can continue to live the nerves for years and decades. VZV, a cousin virus to HSV-1, also finds its way to nerve cells and lives in them without causing much harm in terms of symptoms.
In an experimental model of stem cells transformed into brain cells, researchers tested the cells to viral exposures and found something interesting. The cells, when infected with VZV alone, did not show any abnormal or excess inflammation nor dysfunctions. On the other hand, when the cells were first infected with HSV-1 and then with VZV, increased inflammation and changes similar to Alzheimer’s pathology occurred. The VZV appeared to reawaken the HSV-1 leading to the pathology.
Those of us in functional medicine for any length of time have recognized these chronic sources of inflammation, including the viruses, as contributing to neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s. This research is encouraging as we treat both viral and bacterial infections (e.g. Lyme) that we see in our Alzheimer’s patient. Given the author’s mention that SARS-CoV2 also has the potential to trigger neurologic inflammation, hopefully mainstream medicine will take more notice of this mechanism and respond in a productive manner. Meanwhile, functional medicine continues to help our patient live healthier more abundant lives.
Dana M. Cairns, Ruth F. Itzhaki, David L. Kaplan. Potential Involvement of Varicella Zoster Virus in Alzheimer’s Disease via Reactivation of Quiescent Herpes Simplex Virus Type 1. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, 2022; 1 DOI: 10.3233/JAD-220287
Thanks to Science Daily:
Tufts University. “Common viruses may be triggering the onset of Alzheimer’s disease: Shingles infection may activate dormant neurological herpes viruses, causing inflammation and accumulation of Alzheimer’s associated proteins in the brain.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 2 August 2022. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2022/07/220729173148.htm>.
Sanctuary Functional Medicine, under the direction of Dr Eric Potter, IFMCP MD, provides functional medicine services to Nashville, Middle Tennessee and beyond. We frequently treat patients from Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Ohio, Indiana, and more... offering the hope of healthier more abundant lives to those with chronic illness.