Inflammation is a key driver of aging. What causes it can be traced to a variety of factors, whether it’s stress, the food we eat or a chronic condition such as diabetes. Recent research, however, has indicated that certain drugs could have a positive impact on brain aging by reducing inflammation and addressing related issues that enhance cognitive aging.
Of importance in this area is the blood brain barrier, the filtration system which prevents infection and other hazardous chemicals in the blood from entering the brain. Research shows that roughly 60% of adults age 70 or older have leaky blood brain barriers, allowing substances that cause inflammation to enter the brain.
There is a knock-on effect of this breakdown in the brain’s protective barrier that scientists sometimes refer to as the “inflammatory load.” In other words, the increase in inflammatory chemicals often leads to a sort of fog in the brain that can spark neurodegeneration and cognitive decline.
Researchers are working on pharmacological solutions that would help clear up that fog as well as tests that can examine biomarkers that indicate a leaky blood brain barrier and establish whether or not brain rhythms have been disrupted.
Causes of Inflammation
In the case of age-related cognitive decline due to a leaky blood brain barrier, there are various chemicals that cause the brain to experience dysfunction. According to a study in the journal Science Translational Medicine, one of these is albumin, the water-soluble protein and heat activated coagulant you probably know as the white of an egg.
Albumin plays an important part in health for the body, carrying vitamins, enzymes and hormones throughout the body in the blood. It’s made by the liver and also operates as a barrier designed to keep fluid in your bloodstream so they don’t end up in other tissues. If it finds its way into the brain, be it in the wake of a traumatic brain injury or just a leaky blood brain barrier, it attaches itself to receptors in the brain, triggering a wave of inflammatory effects that cause damage to brain cells and neural pathways.
The result of albumin in the brain is an increased risk of seizures and cognitive decline due to the inflammation that it causes. Scientists have been able to isolate the problem in mouse models by using a drug called IPW that not only gets through the blood brain barrier, but also blocks the receptor causing the inflammation.
Other drivers of inflammation have been discovered and pharmaceutical solutions are being proposed.
Reducing Brain Inflammation Through Medication
The aforementioned IPW drug has tremendous potential not only for the treatment of inflammation and neurological conditions, it’s also led the researchers to believe that the drug can help the brain return to a younger state, thus reversing cognitive decline.
Other drugs that can reduce brain inflammation have surfaced, though that isn’t always their intended use. For example, the hypertension medication known as losartan could prevent seizures following a traumatic injury.
Another useful drug treatment comes in the form of the diabetes drug, metformin, which is still being tested. This blood sugar regulator has also proven to be valuable as anti-inflammatory agent and, according to a study published in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, can “rapidly penetrate the blood brain barrier to protect neurons through anti-inflammatory processes.”
Researchers concluded that metformin can improve cognitive function in patients suffering from non-dementia vascular cognitive impairment.