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Education as a Defense Mechanism Against Alzheimer’s Disease

The Prophet Mohammad (saw) said, “He who travels in search of knowledge, to him Allah shows the way to Paradise” (Bukhari). Therefore, Allah (swt) made learning a duty for all Muslim men, women and children.
Knowledge has the ability to help one differentiate between right and wrong, thus helping keep us on the right path. However, education has more earthly benefits as well. It exercises the mental faculty and the powers of logical reasoning; and has been shown that education can actually prevent Alzheimer’s Disease (AD).

AD is a degenerative disease of the brain, from which there is no recovery. The nerve cells are slowly attacked in all parts of the cortex (outer layer of the brain) – effectively denying the sufferer control over memory, emotions, and the ability to recognize mistakes and coordinate movements (Noah-Health, p.1).

Recently, it has been discovered that individuals with low education levels – in comparison to people who have relatively more education – exhibit less activity in the posterior cingulated cortex (pCC). The pCC is the part of the brain that can suffer the most significant deterioration during the earliest stages of AD (Reuters, p.1).

In 2014, researchers at the University of California presented their study at the 6th Annual UCLA Research Conference On Aging. They assessed the pCC metabolism of 156 people using a PET with F-18 flourodeoxyglucose (Reuters, p.1).

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A PET (positron emission tomography), first used in the late 1970’s, is used for metabolic imaging. A PET shows active tumor cells and lesions before they are clinically evident and confirms diagnosis of types of dementia based on specific patterns (Rao, p.1, 2, 3).

When using a linear regression analysis for pCC metabolism, it was found that the metabolism of the “low-education” group was less than 25% that of the “high-education” group.

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Dana Marseille, a member of the research team, told Reuters Health that, “Differences in cortical metabolism were found to be present as early as age 20. Furthermore, people with higher metabolism tended to pursue advanced degrees while those with lower metabolism did not” (Reynolds, p.2).

This supports the work of Dr. Frieland, Associate Professor of Neurology, Psychiatry and Radiology at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine & University Hospitals of Cleveland (U.S.). His team studied the association between physical and mental activities in adulthood and the development of AD; their findings were presented at the 52nd Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Neurology.

The study involved 193 people with AD and 358 controls; whom were questioned about their activities during their 20’s, 30’s, 40’s and 50’s. It was found that the controls had a greater diversity of activities at an increased frequency. Those who were intellectually more active in their 20’s and 30’s were found to be at a lower risk of developing AD.

Dr. Friedland explains, “Our body parts age in regard to how often they are used. People who learn new tasks are exercising nerve cells and these nerve cells are actually changing structure and chemistry with activity.”

He went on to say that, “Nerve protein synthesis is occurring, nerve filaments are growing, neural growth factors are secreted, and conductivity and chemical complexity are changed by how nerve cells in the brain are being used” (Blair, p.1, 2).

The researchers noted that humans are genetically equipped to be active throughout their entire life and pointed out that developing countries have higher rates of activity and lower rates of AD (Blair, p.3).

Figures from 1990 show AD to be at the lowest (0.9%) in Islamic Middle Eastern countries and Latin American & Caribbean countries; 3.0% in China; and 4.4% in developed countries (Alzheimers.com, p.1).

AD was found to be rare in West Africa, although the risk of African-Americans developing the disease directly correlates to the rates of AD in developed countries. AD was also found to occur less frequently in native Cree and Cherokee Indians and Asians. But, a study of Japanese men showed that their risk increased if they emigrated to the U.S.

AD is now the fourth leading cause of death in adults and currently affects four million American sufferers (Noah-health, p.1). Its well-established risk factors include: increasing age, genetics, Down’s Syndrome and gender.

The Boston-based Multi-Institutional Research in Alzheimer’s’ Genetic Epidemiology (MIRAGE) study shows that at all ages, women are more likely to develop AD than men; although the use of the estrogen hormones after menopause seems to prevent and treat the disease (Alzheimers.com, p.2).

Dr. Friedland and his team believe that these findings carry great implications for public policy. “We believe that health measures should be instituted to enhance adult participation in activities, and decrease participation in activities that involve little physical or intellectual stimulation, such as television,” he said (Blair p.3).

Perhaps he should also add that one should “seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave…even as far as China (Hadith).”




This article was first published in 2003 and is currently republished for its importance.