Scientists have pinpointed how vitamin D may help ease the symptoms of Alzheimer’s patients by clearing brain abnormalities that are a hallmark of the disease.
A team of researchers from the University of California-Los Angeles has identified the way vitamin D3 works – at the cellular level — to clear the brain of so-called “amyloid beta plaques” associated with Alzheimer's disease.
Their findings, published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, show that vitamin D3 may activate key genes that boost the immune system to rid the brain of the plaques. They also point the way for new treatments for the disease, which strikes as many as 1 in 5 people over the age of 85.
Previous research by the team show the immune systems of Alzheimer's patients may respond to therapy with vitamin D3 and curcumin, a chemical found in turmeric spice. But the researchers didn't know how it worked -- until their latest study was completed.
"This new study helped clarify the key mechanisms involved, which will help us better understand the usefulness of vitamin D3 and curcumin as possible therapies for Alzheimer's disease," said study author Dr. Milan Fiala.
For the study, scientists took blood samples from Alzheimer's patients and isolated critical immune cells that gobble up amyloid plaques and other waste products in the brain and body.
The team combined the immune cells overnight with plaques. Vitamin D3 was added to some of the cells to test its effects. Researchers found that adding the vitamin D3 boosted the action of the immune cells acting on the plaques.
The team said it will now begin testing the effects of vitamin D on Alzheimer’s patients.
The study was funded in part by the Alzheimer's Association and the National Institutes of Health.