What Occurs in a Brain with Alzheimer's?
There are at least five major pathological changes that occur in the brains of patients with Alzheimer's disease, all of which act to bring about the progressive cognitive impairment and memory loss:4
A decrease in levels of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine in certain regions of the brain, resulting in a decline in cholinergic function (brain activity that depends on acetylcholine)
An accumulation of destructive deposits known as plaques and tangles in and around the neurons (brain cells)
Oxidative damage to neurons brought about by highly reactive molecular species called free radicals (no, they're not the latest heavy metal band or leftover hippies from the 1960s)
Inflammatory processes that may lead to the death of neurons
A progressive loss of neuronal mass (brain tissue)
Since healthy acetylcholine levels are vitally important for memory formation and retention, the first class of prescription medications for Alzheimer's disease has been targeted to increase the amount of this important neurotransmitter. These drugs inhibit the action of an enzyme called acetylcholinesterase, which breaks down acetylcholine; they are thus called acetylcholinesterase inhibitors. Although they lead to a modest decrease in the rate of progression of Alzheimer's, they do not stop the disease, nor do they affect any of the other pathological changes that make it so devastating.
Fortunately, however, recent studies have shown that a standardized extract of Ginkgo biloba has favorable activity against the first four of the five major pathological changes listed above.
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