Researchers have made incredible progress over the past 30 years into the causes of memory loss.

We now know that our memory is impacted by the accumulation of two proteins in brain. The first is the accumulation of the beta-amyloid protein and is commonly the main culprit identified in brain “plaques.” The second is an accumulation of the tau protein and is the main protein present in brain “tangles.”

Plaques, which look like Swedish meatballs under a microscope, block neurons (i.e. nerve cells) in different parts of the brain from connecting and talking to each other. The plaques are found in-between neurons and cause neurons to die. These plaques are particularly commonly found in the brain’s hippocampus, which is the main memory center of the brain.

Tangles, also contribute to memory loss and look like dried-up spaghetti under a microscope. Tangles accumulate inside neurons and they can also kill the neurons when they accumulate.

Dr. Alan Snow, a former Research Associate Professor of Pathology at University of Washington in Seattle who has studied “plaques and tangles” for over 30 years, said plaques and tangles start to form in early adulthood and get worse over time.

“In the normal aging brain, you begin developing “plaques” in your 20s and 30’s, followed by “tangles” he said. “If you have both “plaques and tangles”, the neurons are dying, and the memories are being blocked.”

Research history

Snow and his research team were the first to discover how to recreate plaques in a test tube that were identical to those in the aging brain beta-amyloid protein with a carbohydrate called heparan sulfate. This led to the issuance of a US patent in 1996 (US Patent #7,148,001) titled “In vitro formation of congophilic maltese-cross amyloid plaques to identify anti-plaques therapeutics…..”. Snow was also the first to identify heparan sulfate proteoglycans in “plaques and tangles” in the aging brain in 1988 (Snow et al, American Journal of Pathology 133:456-463, 1988).

Dr. Rudy Tanzi, a Harvard Neurology Professor, and Dr. Snow’s colleague and partner’s in their new Company, Cognitive Clarity Inc., continues to reveal more information about the possible causes of plaques and tangles. He recently published that plaques might also be acting as a defense mechanism  to protect the brain against viruses and bacteria.

Through his research and others, Tanzi found five lifestyle factors that can help prevent plaques and tangles from occurring in the aging brain.

Tanzi’s SHIELD plan advises people to Sleep eight hours per night, Handle stress, Interact with others, Exercise, Learn new things and Diet, preferably with a Mediterranean diet that is high in fruits, vegetables, nuts and olive oil and low in red meat.

Sleep is particularly important to removing brain plaques. During sleep, the brain produces cerebrospinal fluid that can clears out excess plaques, Snow said.

Reducing plaques and tangles

Recent scientific advancements by Snow has also made it possible to reduce plaques and tangles that have already formed.

While working at the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center at the University of Washington, Snow became interested in glucosamine’s and other small carbohydrate’s ability to possibly inhibit plaque formation. After screening many dietary supplements for their plaque-reducing capabilities, Dr. Snow and his post-doc at the time, Dr. Gerardo Castillo, accidentally found a carbohydrate mixed up with an ingredient called Cat’s Claw or Uncaria tomentosa. Snow and Castillo both first thought the plaque-reducing activity was due to the carbohydrate component. After 6 months of research, they discovered that it was not the carbohydrate but rather the cat’s claw plant that was responsible for the potent inhibitory and reducing activity.

Found in the Amazon rainforest, Cat’s Claw is a woody vine that grows up to 200 feet long. For centuries, Peruvian tribes have used the plant’s anti-inflammatory properties to support and enhance the immune system.

After working with specialized researchers who were experts in plant biology, Snow’s team discovered new and specific polyphenols within Cat’s Claw that bound to plaques and tangles and made them dissolve. They also identified a specific source of cat’s claw they named as PTI-00703® cat’s claw that had the most potent “plaque and tangle” reducing and inhibiting activity from over

10 different cat’s claw sources tested. Much of this work had led to numerous issued patents in the US and Internationally in which Snow is a co-inventor for the use of the cat’s claw plant for improving memory, focus, concentration and cognition.