New research, which will be published in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, has shown that Alzheimer’s patients who drink milk with live bacteria for at least 12 weeks show marked improvement in their overall cognitive function.

Participants were given Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium live bacteria over the course of 12 weeks, and those who took the live bacteria showed a moderate improvement on the Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE) scale, which is used to score the cognitive function of those with Alzheimer’s.

Research is constantly being conducted on gut microbes and their relation to diseases such as depression and chronic fatigue syndrome. Altered gut microbes have also shown a behavioral difference in mice. Therefore, it is possible that gut microbes are also responsible for the change in memory function in patients with Alzheimer’s.

The study took place at Kashan University of Medical Sciences, Kashan, and Islamic Azad University, Tehran, Iran, where lead researchers involved 52 Alzheimer’s patients aged 60 to 95 years old. Participants were given 200ml of milk each day. Some of the milk was enriched with Lactobacillus acidophilus, L. casei, L. fermentum, and Bifidobacterium bifidum, containing 400 billion bacteria per each species. Others in the experiment were simply given milk without the live bacteria.

Those involved in the study had their cognitive function tested, as well as blood drawn.

The patients who received the live bacteria had their score increase from an average of 8.7 out of 30 to 10.6 out of 30 on the MMSE scale. Those who did not receive the bacteria actually experienced a slight reduction in their scores, moving from an average of 8.5 to 8.0.

Because the sample size was small and the change in MMSE scores were moderate, doctors cannot be positive that they share a correlation. However, this means further studies are in order to determine the relevance they may have with one another.

However, scientists are none the less excited at the prospect.

Walter Lukiw, Professor of Neurology, Neuroscience and Ophthalmology and Bollinger Professor of Alzheimer’s disease at Louisiana State University, who was not involved in the study, stated:

“This early study is interesting and important because it provides evidence for gastrointestinal (GI) tract microbiome components playing a role in neurological function, and indicates that probiotics can in principle improve human cognition. This is in line with some of our recent studies which indicate that the GI tract microbiome in Alzheimer’s is significantly altered in composition when compared to age-matched controls, and that both the GI tract and blood-brain barriers become significantly more leaky with aging, thus allowing GI tract microbial exudates (e.g. amyloids, lipopolysaccharides, endotoxins and small non-coding RNAs) to access Central Nervous System compartments.”

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