Cold sores, according to a new study released by Columbia University are more than just unattractive and an annoyance. They are now linked to loss of cognitive ability. The Study was published on Monday March 25, 2013 in the journal Neurology. The Study entitled Infectious Burden and Cognative Function: The Northern Manhattan Study provides the results of the research done by the team from the University Medical Center.
For the study, 1625 participants were followed for 8 years. During that time period, they were given yearly tests to determine the amount of decline in cognitive ability. The results showed that during the period of the study the decline in cognition was not the result of infections that occurred during the time period of the study. What it did show was that the infections that occurred before the time period of the study affected the decline in cognitive ability. The average age of the participants in this study was 69 years old when the study began.
What the researchers were looking for was antibodies in the blood of the participants to show that they had been infected at some point with common infections. The more antibodies present, the more times they had suffered from the infections. The researchers were looking for evidence of five types of infections including three that are herpes viruses. They also looked for chlamydia pneumonia which is a respiratory infections and helicobacter pylori which is a common stomach bacteria.
The people who took part in the study were given cognitive tests and it was determined that those who had the highest level of antibodies were 25% more likely to have lower scores on the test.
According to Dr. Mira Katan the lead researcher on the study “We found actually that a mathematical combination of all these pathogens is associated with cognition problems. It's not just one pathogen, but the cumulative burden of all these infections.
Dr. Katan further stated “A study starting with younger participants over a longer period may reveal more about how the decline progresses over time. 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. For example, exercise and childhood vaccinations against viruses could decrease the risk for memory problems later in life. 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. "
The study has raised some interesting questions and has added more evidence to previous studies that have pointed to a link between the herpes virus and Alzheimer Disease and strokes. The general consensus is that further study needs to done with a larger, younger group of participant to determine whether the results are consistent across a more varied base of participants. The hope is that the results can lead to measures that may help to prevent cognitive decline in the elderly.