December 28, 2009
Alzheimers And Cancer Protect Against Each Other?

You know that (probably wrong saying) "starve a cold, feed a fever"? People who get Alzheimer's Disease are less likely to get cancer and vice versa.

People who have Alzheimer’s disease may be less likely to develop cancer, and people who have cancer may be less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease, according to a new study published in the December 23, 2009, online issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

Anyone care to explain this?

During the study, 478 people developed dementia and 376 people developed invasive cancer. For people who had Alzheimer’s disease at the start of the study, the risk of future cancer hospitalization was reduced by 69 percent compared to those who did not have Alzheimer’s disease when the study started. For Caucasian people who had cancer when the study started, their risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease was reduced by 43 percent compared to people who did not have cancer at the start of the study, although that finding was not evident in minority groups.

I would expect a stronger immune system to protect against both diseases. But might inflammation contribute to the development of Alzheimer's while at the same time stimulating the immune system to attack cancer cells?

Share |      Randall Parker, 2009 December 28 11:13 PM  Brain Alzheimers Disease


Comments
Clarium said at December 28, 2009 11:54 PM:

I would rather have a high risk of cancer than Alzheimers since it seems that cancer is easier (relatively) to deal with.

What are the sample sizes and p values for this report?

Brett Bellmore said at December 29, 2009 3:28 AM:

Well, I've got cancer, (Diffuse B cell lymphoma, my oncologist described it as "whimpy".) so I certainly hope there's a silver lining. Maybe some metabolic trait that leads to easier imortalization of cells is protective against Alzheimer's?

Bob Badour said at December 29, 2009 7:00 AM:

Is it possible that more of the people who had cancer simply died from the disease before they could get alzheimer's and vice versa?

Darren said at December 29, 2009 7:04 AM:

Here's a theory.

People with Alzheimer’s disease die before cancer sets in. People with cancer die before Alzheimer’s disease sets in.

I'll bet if you did a study of people getting run over by a truck, you will find that trucks protect people from all diseases.

Zach said at December 29, 2009 8:00 AM:

"But might inflammation contribute to the development of Alzheimer's while at the same time stimulating the immune system to attack cancer cells?"

My two cents would be that if the inflammation is caused by high glucose levels then indeed Alzheimer's would be in a favorable state to develop. However, this inflammation caused by high glucose would be favorable to cancer, as well. I think the answer lies in the combination of inflammation from high glucose and development of crosslinking of the sugar and protein. IOW, perhaps cancers more favorably develops in metabolic environment with limited protein/sugar crosslinking (which causes the junk which is linked to Alzheimer's.

In both cancer and Alzheimer's high glucose levels would be a bad thing (for cancer it provides a rich source of fuel, despite the "protective" nature of immune system responding to inflammation as suggested by Randall. I would suggest that there's something in the diet along with high levels of glucose that allows for Alzheimer's to take hold either before cancer sets in, or somehow the protein/sugar crosslinking inhibit cancer growth while at the same time facilitating developing Alzheimer's. I have read about endocrinology passionately over the last year, and this was my initial gut reaction when reading this post and respective comments. I would be interested in how far off the mark this would seem to someone more informed than I.

Zach said at December 29, 2009 8:08 AM:

an example:

Cancer diet:
High sugar, high glycemic diet very low in protein giving very little "raw materials" for AGEs that are linked with Alzheimers

Alzheimer's diet:
High sugar, high glycemic diet (e.g., the horrible SAD) with moderate amounts of protein

anti cancer and anti Alzheimer's diet:
low glycemic, carb-restricted, paleo diet that limits cancer's fuel and the ability of for AGEs to form from sugar/protein crosslinking

In both cases sugar would be the culprit and the limiting of sugar would be the solution.

dk said at December 29, 2009 10:40 AM:

darren I think you are on the mark here.....notice how alzheimers prevents cancer more than cancer prevents alzheimers. (because alz has a lower ten year survival rate)

Tom Van Hoose said at December 29, 2009 10:57 AM:

Macrophage polarization might be a factor.

The brain is an immune restricted area (until injury or tumor breaks the barrier). As I understand it, microglia (resident macrophages) are a big player in immune response in the brain. Macrophages have several modes. The big ones are M1 & M2. M1 is the "classical" one. It's triggered by inflammation (and triggers inflammation). This version would attack cancerous cells.

M2 is tasked with immune suppression. It's a regulatory mechanism, really-you want to keep the immune response from getting out of control. M2 macrophages suppress the immune response as well as promote vascular growth & remodeling. Tumors have been shown to manipulate macrophages into an M2 mode, which then supports the growth of tumors.

Maybe something about Alzheimer's is keeping the microglia in M1.

Thras said at December 29, 2009 11:39 AM:

Interestingly, diabetes increases both your cancer and Alzheimer's risk.

Bob Badour said at December 29, 2009 11:48 AM:

Thras,

Once you get Type II diabetes you are fucked any way you look at it. Take home lesson: Don't get diabetes.

P.S. Is that Alzheimer's risk or general dementia risk?

Nathan said at December 29, 2009 11:59 AM:

I would suspect that it could be something to do with the fact that maybe those prone to cancer may have a higher chance of cells replacing themselves (fast cellular division). Therefore, in the brain they may replace lost brain cells faster and therefore ward off Alzheimers.

The inverse of course is that those without a higher chance of cells replacing themselves are less prone to cancer, but more prone to Alzheimers.

Andrew said at December 29, 2009 12:50 PM:

Sorry if this seems pedantic but the adage "Starve a cold, feed a fever" is completely inappropriate in this cancer/Alz context.

It should properly read: "IF you starve a cold THEN you will feed a fever." Ergo, feed that cold so you don't get sicker.

Otherwise, great post; very interesting finding.

DWPittelli said at December 29, 2009 1:03 PM:

I would hope and expect that published research would not be so incompetent as to miss a mere "they died of Alzheimer's before they could get cancer" type of effect. But the claim that "For people who had Alzheimer’s disease at the start of the study, the risk of future cancer hospitalization was reduced by 69 percent" is compatible with the probable fact that people with a disease with a prognosis as bad as Alzheimer’s aren't likely to get aggressive treatment or even diagnosis for other diseases. While one could argue whether it is pointless to "save" an Alzheimer's patient from a cancer death which would occur somewhat before his death from Alzheimer's, it certainly would be pointless to "cure" an Alzheimer's patient of a cancer which would not kill him until after his death by Alzheimer's (arguably, even pointless to extend the life of a patient with senile dementia; and certainly not a cost-effective or morale-boosting use of medical resources). So I doubt it is really the case that either disease protects from the other; certainly the claimed effect on hospitalization rates says very little to indicate otherwise.

Brent Brotine said at December 29, 2009 1:06 PM:

A doctor tells a guy: "I have bad news. You have Alzheimer's, and you have cancer." Guy says, "Thank God I don't have cancer."
(Gilbert Gottfried)

Shane said at December 29, 2009 1:08 PM:

My father-in-law was late stage Alzheimers when lung cancer killed him last year.

Javert said at December 29, 2009 4:05 PM:

I'm having a vodka tonic and a cigarette, not worrying about either Alzheimer or cancer. We will all die, some of us will have enjoyed ourselves.

Javert said at December 29, 2009 4:08 PM:

Even if we don't remember it :)

jmayes said at December 29, 2009 7:01 PM:

Could it be oxygen related? Low oxygen environments, such as high elevation cities, have low cancer incidence. Maybe low oxygen or poor circulation is good for cancer but a contributing factor for Alzheimers. Conversely, high oxygen and good circulation might give cancer what it needs to grow but thwart or delay Alzheimers.

randyr said at December 29, 2009 7:39 PM:

RE: I would expect a stronger immune system to protect against both diseases. But might inflammation contribute to the development of Alzheimer's while at the same time stimulating the immune system to attack cancer cells?

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/29/health/research/29cancer.html?_r=1&pagewanted=print
Old Ideas Spur New Approaches in Cancer Fight

In the article above, it would seem to be the opposite. inflammation, accidents, and wounding would seem to break the seal of healthy cells and release the cancer chimera. noted in breast cancer before.
and inflammation of gums also seems to lead to higher rates of NHL, Hodgkins and other cancers.

thanks for the insight

Fat Man said at December 29, 2009 8:04 PM:

My mother had an absolute terror of cancer, which had killed both of her parents, albeit in their upper 70s.

She is 87 now and is getting quite demented. The dementia appears to cause her very little pain, and indeed she is calmer and more cheerful than she ever was in her earlier life.

But Shakespeare knew the truth:

"Julius Cćsar" Act II. Scene II. ln 37

CAESAR:

Cowards die many times before their deaths;
The valiant never taste of death but once.
Of all the wonders that I yet have heard.
It seems to me most strange that men should fear;
Seeing that death, a necessary end,
Will come when it will come.

Elna Tymes said at December 30, 2009 11:58 AM:

Bob Badour asked:
P.S. Is that Alzheimer's risk or general dementia risk?

Dementia is a kind of uber-class, of which Alzheimer's Disease is one, but the most common, example. Dementia includes a lot of other problems, such as alcohol-related dementia, the dementia that comes with Parkinson's Disease, etc.

If a diabetes-inducing diet and lifestyle, which is popularly associated with both cancer and Alzheimer's, has at its root a high glycemic index, and Alzheimer's is associated with inflammation, why is it that an active physical and mental life seems to offer some protection against Alzheimer's, but not necessarily cancer? Routine physical exertion raises the body temperature, although not localized the way inflammation works. What's the difference to the body between the higher temperature created by exercise and the higher local temperature as a result of inflammation? Is there any research that shows that a Mediterranean-style diet (relatively low glycemic, low fat, high fiber) does a better job of preventing Alzheimer's?

Zach said at December 30, 2009 2:51 PM:

citing Elna Tymes
"What's the difference to the body between the higher temperature created by exercise and the higher local temperature as a result of inflammation? Is there any research that shows that a Mediterranean-style diet (relatively low glycemic, low fat, high fiber) does a better job of preventing Alzheimer's?"

what was the % of population among hunter/gatherer societies that ate typically low glycemic foods (no grains, no processed sugar, no HFCS)? there is much documentation that among these societies both cancer and Alzheimer's was practically non-existant until the colonists came and forced flour/sugar food rationing on them.

Zach said at December 31, 2009 6:54 AM:

again citing Elna Tymes:
"What's the difference to the body between the higher temperature created by exercise and the higher local temperature as a result of inflammation?"

Exercise done intermittently would cause an acute raise in temperature. A diet with excessive sugar/carb would cause chronic inflammation, thus causing chronic higher local temperature (although I'm not as versed on the effects of inflammation regarding higher localized temperature, that's my answer).

Jens said at January 2, 2010 4:26 AM:

All things being equal, i'd say both conditions tend to shorten longevity/scenesens, decreasing the likelyhood of the patient surviving long enough to die from another condition. Cancer patients don't live long enough to develop Alzheimers. Alzheimers patients conversely don't live long enough to get cancer.

gdaigle said at January 7, 2010 8:24 AM:

An article (http://www.physorg.com/news182024240.html) out today suggests that cell phone exposure may protect against and reverse Alzheimer's disease. So cell phone usage may not directly cause cancer, but by protecting against Alzheimer's it might make cancer more likely?

Beth said at January 7, 2010 5:07 PM:

Darren, here's a suggestion.

Read the material. Unless you enjoy spouting off and looking like an idiot.

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