Is Food Dye The Key To Fighting Alzheimer's Disease?

12/07/2011 10:45 am ET

Is treating Alzheimer's disease as simple as eating a Red Velvet cupcake?

Not exactly, but research published this month in the scientific journal Nature Chemical Biology suggests that certain food dyes contain chemical substances that may help treat the degenerative brain disorder currently affecting more 5 million Americans, according to the The Alzheimer's Association.

So what's so special about food dye, and how can it help treat Alzheimer's disease?

According to io9, the key lies in a chemical compound in the dye called orcein, along with the similar compound O4, and the way they react to proteins in the body.

In Alzheimer's patients, toxic proteins build up in the brain, forming lumps that impede neural functioning and cause memory loss, according to io9. But when orcein and a substance called O4 chemically bind to the toxic protein aggregates, the lumps transform into non-dangerous plaques that don't seem to have any negative effects on the brain's neurons.

The food dye study marks a departure from previous attempts to treat Alzheimer's disease, which focused on changing the structure of the toxic protein aggregates in order to stop their growth, io9 reported.

Unfortunately, it will take many more years of testing and clinical trials before researchers can begin giving orcein-based treatment to those suffering from Alzheimer's disease.

In the meantime, though, researchers continue to study a number of Alzheimer's treatments in various stages of development:

Insulin Spray: CNN reported that using insulin spray once or twice a day helped improve memory skills in Alzheimers patients, researchers reported earlier this year in a study published in the Archives of Neurology. The finding makes sense considering that diabetics are more likely to develop the disease: insulin has been shown to promote cell genesis and counter the ill effects of toxic protein aggregates.

Vaccine: Researchers at Georgetown University found that giving patients a vaccine when they are in the earliest stages of Alzheimer's disease may slow it down. Much like a flu shot, the vaccine would inject certain proteins into the body so that it builds up antibodies to the disease. Unfortunately, Georgetown researchers emphasize, the vaccine must be given in the disease's earliest stages or else the patient may develop brain inflammation.

Spinal Fluid Test:Researchers have found that testing the spinal fluid of patients with significant memory loss can be 100 percent accurate in determining whether those patients will go on to develop the disease, according to The New York Times. Because people developing Alzheimer's disease can go years without showing any symptoms, the hope is that those identified as having the disease early on can be studied by researchers working on ways to measure or slow the disease during its progression.

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