A new study consisting primarily of Hispanic participants suggests common infections –- even those not linked to symptoms of illness –- may increase an individual’s risk for memory decline.
According to the data released from the American Stroke Association, cognitive performance and decline could be predicted by the number of specific antibodies present in study participants.
“We were very interested in what were the risk factors for cognitive performance and decline,” Clinton Wright, M.D., M.S., the study’s lead researcher and scientific director of the Evelyn F. McKnight Brain Institute, said in a press release.
The investigation was a more in-depth evaluation of previous links indicating a history of certain infections had been linked to an increased risk for stroke and Alzheimer’s disease.
At the end of the study, which evaluated almost 600 participants primarily of Hispanic ethnicity, experts were able to link degree of cognitive decline to antibodies associated with common infections of Chlamydia pneumoniae, Helicobacter pylori, cytomegalovirus, and herpes simplex viruses 1 and 2. Individuals who tested positive for these specific antibodies had worse cognitive performance, including memory, speed of mental processing, abstract thinking, planning and reasoning ability, compared to individuals without a evidence of previous infection.
Though a link was established between common infection and cognitive decline, experts did not find a reason for the association, speculating that perhaps immune response to infection could cause damage over time that has previously not been identified.
“It could be caused by an immune system response to the infections or the infection itself could result in clinical damage that we’re not aware of,” said Wright. “There is no evidence yet that treating these infections is beneficial. It would be great if treatment prevented these bad outcomes, but we’re very far away from having that type of evidence.”
Right now, experts suspect the damage caused by infectious processes is so gradual that treatment of specific illnesses may not make a difference. It is possible the damage is cumulative over decades, making it difficult to determine how relevant the findings may be for future medical advancements. Wright also indicated more research needs to be done on other portions of the population; with 70 percent of study participants being of Hispanic heritage, the findings cannot be considered indicative of the general population.
According to U.S. News and World Report, chronic inflammation–the type associated with an immune response–is often considered the underlying cause of many disease processes, including heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
“In recent years, we’ve come to accept that inflammation plays a role in many chronic diseases, but it’s about an imbalance—too many pro-inflammatory chemicals and not enough anti-inflammatory ones,” Moise Desvarieux, an inflammation researcher at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, told the news outlet.
The trick is to catch inflammation as it is starting, indicate experts, rather than allowing it to become a chronic issue. Chronic inflammation can set off the body’s stress systems which then start an unhealthy chain reaction all their own–like the release of the stress hormone cortisol. Chronic exposure to this stress system can hurt the body rather than help it, a fact that supports the assumption common infection stress is cumulative.
Originally published on VOXXI as Infections might be to blame for memory decline in Hispanics