By Dr. Mercola
When animals hibernate, their body temperatures drop and their metabolism slows significantly (in some cases to just 2 percent of normal). In this state of virtual suspended animation, the animals’ brains show signs of changes akin to early-stage Alzheimer’s, and some even lose their memories.
Specifically, when animals hibernate the cooling induces a loss in synapses, which are the connections between brain cells. Synapses are also lost in the early stages of certain neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease.
In humans the early loss of synapses typically progresses to the point that whole brain cells begin to die – and memories go along with them. Hibernating mammals may lose up to 30 percent of their brain’s connections during hibernation.
The connections are restored come spring, which has caught the attention of researchers wondering if restoring lost memories in humans might someday be possible.
Cold-Shock Proteins May Help Prevent Memory Loss
A new study published in Nature unraveled more clues about how hibernation might give clues to preventing dementia.1 When mice were artificially cooled, a number of cold-shock proteins, including RNA-binding protein (RBM3), were induced in the brain – a process that also occurs during hibernation.
Cold-shock proteins exist to help your body survive low temperatures (they’re at the other end of the spectrum from heat-shock proteins, which are induced by heat to help protect your body from heat stress).
All of the mice lost synapses during the study, but while older mice were not able to reestablish them when warmed up, young mice with neurodegenerative diseases regained their lost connections.
The difference was attributed to levels of RBM3, which “soared” in the young mice during cooling but not in the older mice. The researchers believe enhancing cold-shock pathways could offer potential protective therapies for neurodegenerative diseases, but they’re looking into ways of doing this other than cooling your body (which wouldn’t be practical for chronic treatment).