Too Many Cold Sores Could Lead To Increased Cognitive Difficulties
March 26, 2013

Too Many Cold Sores Could Lead To Increased Cognitive Difficulties

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

A group of researchers from Columbia University and the University of Miami recently found that high levels of bacterial and viral infections are associated with cognitive difficulties, according to a new report in the journal Neurology.

The American researchers found that individuals who have been regularly exposed over the years to various pathogens, such as the herpes simplex type 1 virus that periodically flares up to cause cold sores, were more likely to have trouble performing cognitive tests than people with histories of low infection levels.

For the study, researchers administered cognitive tests to over 1,600 people with an average age of 69 from northern Manhattan in New York. Participants´ memory and thinking abilities were annually tested over the course of eight years.

The study participants also gave blood samples that were tested for five common bacterial and viral infections: herpes simplex type 1 (oral), herpes simplex type 2 (genital), cytomegalovirus, chlamydia pneumoniae (lung infection) and Helicobacter pylori (stomach bacteria).

The test results showed that the people with higher levels of infection had a 25 percent increase in the risk of a low score on a cognition test called the Mini-Mental State Examination. Infection level was not found to correlate with cognitive decline over the eight-year span of the study.

"We found the link was greater among women, those with lower levels of education and Medicaid or no health insurance, and most prominently, in people who do not exercise," said co-author Dr. Mira Katan from the Northern Manhattan Study at Columbia University Medical Center in New York.

Katan told NBC News that the study built on previous stroke research that found a relationship between inflammation in the brain and chronic infections.

“We cannot make any conclusions that infections will lead to cognitive problems, but we think there is a connection,” she said. “If a causal effect is established, it could help in the treatment of dementia and strokes.”

Katan added that the study´s results could eventually lead to future treatments or preventative measures.

"While this association needs to be further studied, the results could lead to ways to identify people at risk of cognitive impairment and eventually lower that risk," said Katan. "For example, exercise and childhood vaccinations against viruses could decrease the risk for memory problems later in life."

The study results also give credence to the microbe-dementia hypothesis that says some microbes not only cause damage and inflammation to the body´s organs, but can also cause long-term damage to the brain.

This popular theory has placed new emphasis on treating infections like herpes that remain in the body for years. Researchers at Yeshiva University in New York recently published a paper in The Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology Journal (FASEBJ) on preventing infections of the herpes simplex viruses.

“We´ve essentially identified the molecular ℠key´ that herpes viruses use to penetrate cell membranes and infect cells of the human body,” Dr. Betsy Herold, a women´s health professor at the university´s Albert Einstein College of Medicine, told Forbes.

The researchers in that study said their findings could be used to develop a vaccine that would essentially disarm the virus.