In the future, a urine test may reveal whether someone has early-stage Alzheimer’s.
Study has shown that the simple test can be used to identify individuals with memory problems or Alzheimer’s disease based on the levels of formic acids in their urine.
The main hope is to one day screen people for early signs and symptoms of dementia using blood and urine tests, just as it is for early cancer screening.
PET and CT scans of the brain can be expensive and expose people, while spinal taps to check for clues in spinal fluid can be uncomfortable and invasive.
Study has shown that the simple test can be used to identify individuals with memory problems or Alzheimer’s. It is based on the amount of formic acids in their urine.
While urine and blood tests are faster and easier, there is still much to be learned about how they work.
A study of over 600 people shows that high levels of formic acids in urine may be a warning sign.
Researchers divided 574 individuals into five groups: those with normal thinking skills; those suffering from cognitive decline; and those with more severe cognitive impairment.
The fourth group included people with ‘mild cognitive impairment’ — a clinical diagnosis which can lead to Alzheimer’s, while the fifth group already had Alzheimer’s.
When compared with people with normal thinking skills and Alzheimer’s, formic acid levels were higher in all groups.
Formic acid is a product of formaldehyde in the body. It can lead to the formation of clumps in the brain that could cause the development Alzheimer’s disease.
It could be an indicator that you may have Alzheimer’s disease. This can be used to help detect it with blood tests.
Sian Gregory is the research information manager at Alzheimer’s Society. She said, “This is an exciting discovery. It offers a potential new method to detect Alzheimer’s disease that is less invasive, more cost-effective, and cheaper than current methods.”
This is an important point, as the diagnosis rate for dementia has fallen to a five-year low.
“However, the research is still in its early stages and the study was quite small.
“We are keen to conduct more research in order to understand why Alzheimer’s disease may cause an increase in the level of formic acid found in urine.”
This study was published in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience. It suggests that urine tests for certain proteins associated with Alzheimer’s disease are more effective than blood tests.
The results from the urine tests were linked with memory tests performed by participants in the study. Those who performed poorly in the tests showed higher levels of formic acids.
Biomarkers are the clues to disease in blood or urine.
Shanghai Jiao Tong University Affiliated Sixth People’s Hospital in China led the research.
Francesco Tamagnini is a neuroscientist and dementia expert from the University of Reading. He said that one of the holy grils for Alzheimer’s is the ability to screen people using a urine or blood test.
“Just like we use a blood test for prostate cancer or a mammogram for breast cancer, so we need a painless test that can detect early signs of dementia. This test can be used to identify memory loss before it becomes serious. It can be followed up with scans or a spine tap if necessary.
“But, we need to conduct more research before we can confirm that a urine test works in practice.”
Dr Sara Imarisio is the head of strategic initiatives at Alzheimer’s Research UK. She said that this study examined how urine formic acid could be used to indicate the disease. It was as accurate as blood tests used in research settings.
“While we believe that a combination of blood- and urine diagnostic markers could eventually help improve the accuracy of Alzheimer’s diagnosis for people in the UK, further research is needed to determine how formic acid in the urine may be linked to the disease.
“We need to see bigger studies that follow more people over longer periods of time.”
WHAT IS ALZHEIMER’S?
Alzheimer’s disease, a progressive and degenerative brain disease, is caused by the buildup of abnormal proteins that causes nerve cells to stop working.
This causes brain shrinkage and disrupts transmitters that transmit messages.
The disease is the 6th leading cause and affects more than 5,000,000 Americans. It’s also the most common in Britain.
Brain cells eventually die and the functions they provide go away.
It includes memory, orientation, as well as the ability to think and reason.
The progression of the disease is slow but steady.
Patients live on average for five to seven years, while others may live for ten or fifteen years.
- Short-term memory loss
- Behavior changes
- Mood swings
- Tough decisions about money and making calls
- Grave memory loss, forgetting loved ones, familiar objects, and places
- Anger and frustration caused by inability to understand the world. This can lead to aggressive behavior.
- You eventually lose your ability to walk
- May have eating problems
- Most will require 24-hour care eventually.
Source: Alzheimer’s Association