Dementia, as we’ve discussed before, can take on numerous forms. Huntington’s Disease is one of the major types of age-related dementia that basically mimics the symptoms of ALS, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s at once. This disease causes the breakdown of nerve cells in the brain and deteriorates a person’s mental and physical abilities. It is the quintessential family disease as a child with a parent with HD has a 50/50 chance of also carrying the faulty gene and inheriting the disease. A recent study shows that Huntington’s disease is directly correlated with brain urea levels and metabolic processes, which could be a profound discovery as it relates to Dementia.
Professor Garth Cooper from The University of Manchester who led this study, says that build up of urea in the brain to toxic levels can cause brain damage and ultimately, dementia. This correlates with Cooper’s earlier research which linked Huntington’s disease to other neurodegenerative diseases and type-2 diabetes. Urea is most commonly known as the compound that is excreted through the body in urine. For example, if the kidneys are unable to eliminate the buildup of urea and ammonia in the body, serious complications can occur. Similar to the brain, if a build-up occurs, serious consequences can occur including dementia.
The study revealed that these high levels occur before dementia actually sets in which could help doctors diagnose and treat the disease before its onset. Because Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s disease are on opposite ends of the dementia spectrum, if this discovery holds true for both types, then researchers believe it will hold true for all types of age-related dementia.
More research is needed on the source of the buildup of urea, particularly around the involvement of ammonia and a systematic metabolic defect. Once further research is conducted, this could be a major breakthrough in prevention and treatment of dementia, and more specifically Huntington’s disease.
We know that the Huntington’s disease is caused by a faulty gene, but we now understand how that causes brain damage. That is critical to our understanding of dementia and becoming closer to a preventing and treating the disease.