Doctors in Canada have encountered patients exhibiting symptoms of a mysterious brain condition. The disease shares similarities with Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Medical professionals surmise that environmental toxins are behind the unknown condition.
Roger Ellis is a patient afflicted with the disease. The New Brunswick resident, who is in his early 60s, felt healthy and enjoyed his retirement prior to his diagnosis. Ellis had worked as an industrial mechanic for decades before he retired. But everything changed after he suffered a seizure in June 2019 on his 40th wedding anniversary.
Roger’s son Steve said his father’s health took a turn for the worse after the seizure. “He had delusions, hallucinations, weight loss, aggression [and] repetitive speech. At one point, he couldn’t even walk. So in the span of three months, we were being brought to a hospital to tell us they believed he was dying – but no one knew why.”
Doctors treating Roger initially suspected Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) as the culprit. The fatal brain disorder had the same symptoms observed in the older Ellis. One kind of the disease known as Variant CJD is connected to the consumption of meat from animals infected with mad cow disease. However, tests for CJD conducted on Roger came back negative. Medical professionals told Steve that they did their best to help his father.
But it was only in March 2021 that Steve had an idea of what afflicted his father. A leaked public health memo obtained by Radio-Canada warned of a cluster of patients exhibiting an unknown degenerative brain disease. The memo had been sent to medical professionals in the New Brunswick province.
The Guardian confirmed the memo’s leak in a March 30 report. “We are collaborating with different national groups and experts; however, no clear cause has been identified as of this time,” the document said. Upon seeing the memo, Steve recalled saying that the symptoms in the memo matched with his father’s.
Neurologist describes various symptoms of mysterious brain condition
Roger has been put under the care of neurologist Dr. Alier Marrero. According to Steve, his father’s condition has stabilized, although he is still struggling with speech and sleeping issues. Roger is now in a specialized care home receiving some assistance.
According to Marrero, doctors first encountered the mysterious condition in 2015. He said that it was only observed in one “isolated and atypical case” at the time. But in recent years, many more have come forward and reported similar symptoms – enough for doctors to identify the disease as a never-before -seen condition.
The New Brunswick provincial government said it is currently tracking 48 cases of the brain disorder. Patients hailed from the Acadian Peninsula and Moncton areas of the province. The cases occurred equally in men and women, with symptoms being observed in people as young as 18 and as old as 85. The condition has claimed the lives of six people as of writing.
Marrero said that the symptoms observed are “wide-ranging” and can vary among patients. Behavioral changes such as anxiety and depression, muscle aches and spasms and stuttering were among the symptoms found. The neurologist also mentioned rapid weight loss and muscle atrophy in patients afflicted with the disorder. Some patients also needed walkers or wheelchairs to move around due to coordination problems.
In addition, some patients experienced hallucinations as a result of the disorder. Other patients also reported transient Capgras delusion, where a person believes that an impostor has replaced someone close to them.
Toxins suspected to be behind mysterious brain disorder
Marrero is leading an investigation into the brain condition alongside other researchers and the Public Health Agency of Canada. For now, they suspect that certain toxins are the culprit behind the disease. “There’s a toxic element acquired in the environment of [patients] that triggers the degenerative changes,” he remarked.
University of British Columbia neurologist Dr. Neil Cashman is among the researchers helping Marrero discover the truth. He theorized that two toxins are responsible for the brain disease that afflicted Roger Ellis.
First, he posited that chronic exposure to an “excitotoxin” such as domoic acid may have caused the condition. The toxin was linked to a food poisoning incident in Prince Edward Island province back in 1987. Contaminated mussels from the province caused memory loss, dizziness and confusion to a third of those who ate the shellfish.
Second, he surmised that another toxin called beta-methylamino-L-alanine (BMAA) may be behind the disease. It is produced by cyanobacteria commonly called blue-green algae. BMAA has been cited as having a role in the development of neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.
Cashman nevertheless insisted that aside from these two possible toxins, the current list of theories “is not complete.” He said: “We have to go back to first principles [and] go back to square one. At this point, basically nothing can be excluded.”
Visit Brain.news to read more articles about brain disorders such as the mysterious condition found in New Brunswick.
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