A little while back, Ladders covered an oddly specific study on the effect mouthwash has on an important compound in our bodies called nitric oxide. Nitric oxide has several salient functions-all of which pertain to blood flow. In addition to contributing to vasodilation (the process in which blood vessels widen following the relaxation of smooth muscle cells), the compound is also vital for maintaining overall vascular health in the brain.
In the previous study, published in the journal Free Radical Biology and Medicine, it was determined that the anti-microbial agents found in most over the counter mouthwash severely hinders the production of nitric oxide after moderate to intense physical activity. Now a new report penned by a team of Well Cornell Medicine researchers motions a similar result of a high salt diet. More directly, if nitric oxide production remains low for too long, a protein associated with the development of cognitive illness later in life, called tau, becomes adversely altered. It is currently believed that an over-production of this very same protein advances the tangles and clumps related to the symptoms of most cognitive maladies.
This study published in the journal, Nature, like many before it, attempts to establish a taxonomy of correlative risk factors linked to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, given both illnesses are often discovered after irreversible decline has already transpired, saying nothing of the scarcity of prodromes that attend the conditions in their early stages. From the report: “Dietary habits and vascular risk factors promote both Alzheimer’s disease and cognitive impairment caused by vascular factors. Furthermore, accumulation of hyperphosphorylated tau, a microtubule-associated protein and a hallmark of Alzheimer’s patholog, is also linked to vascular cognitive impairment.”
Just last year, the lead author of this new study, Dr. Giuseppe Faraco teamed up with its senior author Dr. Costantino Iadecola, who is also the director of the Feil Family Brain and Mind Research Institute, alongside Anne Parrish Titzell, who is the Professor of Neurology at Well Cornell Medicine, in the pursuit of mapping a dietary through-line into the pathology of cognitive decline. In their research, which used mouse models, they found that a high salt diet reliably resulted in dementia in the rodents. In this report, the experts observed the diet to specifically lead to cells located in the small intestine to release a molecule that causes inflammation. When this molecule reached the mice’s bloodstream it proscribed the production of nitric oxide. Initially, Farco and his team speculated that dementia occurred in the mice because their brains were effectively starved of efficient blood flow, but it was later determined that this on its own was not enough to account for the increased cognitive illness risk. It was only in the latest report that the conclusion was awarded the tau protein correlation.
When our bodies produce nitric oxide regularly, the compound regulates the presence of tau. It works by essentially halting protein activity caused by a series of enzymes that dually lead to increased disease risk.
“This demonstrated that’s what’s really causing the dementia was tau and not lack of blood flow. And the stuff that is bad for us doesn’t come from a salt shaker – it comes from processed food and restaurant food,” he said. “We’ve got to keep salt in check. It can alter the blood vessels of the brain and do so in vicious way,” Ladecola explained.