Research: Dementia from Head Injury May be Plumbing Problem
Journal of Neuroscience publishes research about the role of brain’s plumbing system causing brain damage.
Last week, another study was published that helped connect the dots about the nature of head injury and brain damage linked to dementia. You can check out the Science Daily Summary of the article along with the PubMed Abstract below:
It’s no secret that head injuries dramatically increase the risk for dementia. There’s even been estimates that 30% of NFL players will have Alzheimer’s Disease or another form of dementia at some time in their lives. Besides the devastating effect that dementia has on the mind and emotions of the patient, it takes an even greater toll on family members and care givers of the injured. It’s one of the biggest reasons that there is such a big controversy and lawsuit implications for football programs at the professional, collegiate, and amateur levels. Check out this chart listing the risk of brain damage for NFL Alumni compared to the regular population.
Dementia and the Brain’s Plumbing System
One of the big areas of focus in research related to dementia and Alzheimer’s have been the effect of substances called Tau Proteins. The presence of excess Tau proteins have been associated with the brain damage seen in Alzheimer’s Disease and Chronic Truamatic Encephalopathy (CTE).
However, Tau proteins are actually a normal substance found in the axons of healthy brain neurons. The problem is when these Tau proteins are disturbed and start clumping together and disrupt the nerve cell’s normal transport system. In this way, these clumped up Tau proteins have a toxic effect on brain cells and cause them to die off.
Scientists have found that the brain has a system to protect itself from these damaging proteins. The brain is immersed in a bath of fluid called cerebral spinal fluid or CSF. CSF was once thought to be a substance used to prevent the brain and spinal cord from moving during trauma, and as a way to transport nutrients throughout the central nervous system. Recently, it’s been found that this fluid also serves as a plumbing system to remove toxic waste products.
In healthy individuals, this plumbing system called the Glymphatic System will wash away Tau proteins from the brain and prevent them from clumping and causing damage. This system is especially active in sleep which is another reason that healthy sleeping patterns are important for your brain and overall health. In this way, it’s like having a toilet that flushes out waste that you don’t want to build up in your house.
Traumatic Brain Injury Can Damage Your Pipes
As a society, we have become used to the idea that our brain may whither away as we age. We have an understanding that dementia and memory loss is way more likely to happen when we are older. Though no one is happy about their loved ones losing their memories, it’s not something that is terribly surprising as a person reaches their 70’s and 80’s.
However, an alarming trend is occurring in NFL athletes, boxers, horse riders, and hockey players. In these high-risk athletes are starting to see dementia-like symptoms occur in their 40’s and 50’s. Some are even being affected in their 20’s. In order to address this growing problem, scientists need a better understanding of how dementia is hitting young people.
In the study above, the researchers found that traumatic brain injury in a mouse model can damage the Glymphatic System and lead to a build up of Tau Proteins in the brain. They found that at the cellular level, the damage from head injury can disrupt the support cells of the brain called astrocytes. When these astrocytes get disrupted, cerebral spinal fluid cannot flow through the brain normally and clear out the cellular waste.
The plumbing system is broken. I think we all know what happens when you have a clogged toilet that won’t flush properly, but here’s a graphic in case you’ve forgotten:
Can the Plumbing Be Fixed?
That appears to be the next million dollar question. As of now, there aren’t any clearly defined solutions. At the cellular level, treatments may need to be designed to help repair or replace the function of these brain support cells. Time will tell when medical science can come up with solutions for this problem, and we’ll be able to see if this actually produces results for people who have suffered with head injury.
When we look above the cellular level, and into the broader tissue structures of the body, there is some exciting research happening in chiropractic.
Dr. Scott Rosa is doing some very interesting work with upright MRI studying how Atlas Corrections can affect the Glymphatic System in the brains of patients with multiple sclerosis. He has also worked with former NFL stars in their recovery from symptoms related to head injury.
Additionally, an organization I’m very proud to be a part of is working on the effect of Atlas Corrections on the Glymphatic System of migraine patients. The Upper Cervical Research Foundation has been studying how CSF flow in the brain is affected by Atlas Corrections using advanced Phase Contrast MRI. You can find some of the early case work found here on the Upper Cervical Monograph. A larger study is under way with the results awaiting publication.
Causes vs Cures
Despite billions of dollars spent on Alzheimers and dementia research, there are no cures for any form of dementia. There are bigger clues into our understanding of how the brain is getting damaged, and it appears that head injury and neck injury are likely contributors.
While we can’t cure these problems yet, I’ve seen plenty of cases of head injury see tremendous benefit following a precise correction of the head and neck. Until medicine comes up with a cure, you may have a low-risk, high-reward protocol to fight a potential cause, and prevent early neurological breakdown.
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Dr. Chung is a practicing Structural Chiropractor in the West Palm Beach area. He has been published in peer reviewed scientific journals and is a sought after speaker in health and wellness. Follow his blog at http://chiropractorwellington.com/category/keystone-chiropractic-blog/ or find him on twitter at @drjonathanchung