Could Herpes Lead to Alzheimer’s?

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Photo: Getty Images

Photo: Getty Images

Another day, another way sex can (maybe) screw you over.

Watch out, people, because totally common and seemingly unrelated viruses like herpes might be enough to cause Alzheimer’s, scientists suggest in an article published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

According to a team of 31 senior scientists and clinicians, plaque buildup in the brain caused by viral or bacterial infections trigger cognitive decline and memory loss, leading to diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia. So far, the main strains to look out for are herpes, chlamydia, and a bacteria called spirochaete.

The scientists say that since two-thirds of people will contract herpes at some point in their lives, it’s a common occurrence for viruses and bacteria to be hanging out in the brains of old people. But like the start of most diseases, the dormant virus or bacteria “wakes up” after a period of stress or immunodeficiency, starting the process of brain degeneration.

Herpes is particularly a culprit in the onset of Alzheimer’s or dementia because of the damage it’s known to cause on the nervous system and the limbic system, which means mental decline and mood problems. “We are saying there is incontrovertible evidence that Alzheimer ’s disease has a dormant microbial component. We can’t keep ignoring all of the evidence,” Douglas Kell of the University of Manchester’s School of Chemistry said in the report.

It’s already known that plaque buildup in the brain prevents neurons from communicating with each other, causing degenerative cognitive diseases, but however bad it may sound, the evidence that herpes-like viruses and bacteria causes this plaque to start accumulating is actually a huge breakthrough, because it means the potential for new treatment options, like antimicrobial drugs, to possibly stop diseases from advancing.

Despite the 412 clinical trials that took place between 2002 and 2012, there’s still no cure for neurodegenerative diseases, but knowing that they might have something to do with the immune system is a step in the right direction. 

But in the meantime, it’s wise to wrap things up and play it safe. You just never know.