Study suggests urea is a cause of dementia

A study published yesterday (11 December) has suggested that a build-up of urea in the brain could be a major cause of dementia.

An international team of researchers, including Professor Garth Cooper from the University of Manchester, used both human brains, donated by families for medical research, and those of genetically modified sheep to investigate whether Huntington’s disease is directly linked to brain urea levels.

This builds upon earlier research into Alzheimer’s disease and urea published last year.

Dr Doug Brown, Director of Research and Development, Alzheimer’s Society, said:

'Urea is natural chemical produced by the body that is normally cleared away in our urine, but this study suggests a build-up of urea in the brain could be involved in the development of Huntington’s disease.

'This could be because the use of energy is compromised in the brains of people with Huntington’s and urea is produced as the damaged brain tries to find alternative energy sources.

'Previous research has hinted that urea might also accumulate in the Alzheimer’s brain, which also experiences problems using energy. However, more research is required to understand if a build-up of urea is the cause, or the result, of brain cells dying so this study doesn’t substantiate the researcher’s claim that urea is a “pivotal” cause of dementia.

'Given that there are still so many unknowns about the causes of dementia, research like this that looks outside the box is vital to help us get a full picture of what causes the condition, and ultimately develop new treatments.'