Fit Body at 40 May Keep Brain Bright at 60

What You Need to Know: People who are fit in their 40s seem to retain more brain volume two decades later and also perform better on decision-making tests.

The Study:

  • Just over 1,270 people underwent exercise treadmill testing in the 1970s, when their average age was 41. In their 60s, the participants underwent MRI brain scans and mental performance tests.
  • Those at midlife who had experienced a greater increase in heart rate or diastolic blood pressure after a few minutes of low-intensity exercise on a treadmill — signs of lower fitness levels — had smaller brain volumes later in life. Higher heart rate and blood pressure during exercise are indications of lower overall fitness levels and can also damage small blood vessels in the brain, the study authors explained.
  • Similarly, those with larger increases in blood pressure levels during low-intensity exercise performed worse on a mental (“cognition”) test of decision-making ability in their 60s.

Every 7.1 mm Hg rise in diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number in a reading) and additional 8.3 beats per minute in heart rate over participants’ resting levels were equated with an additional half-year of brain aging.

“In elderly individuals, improvements in fitness have been shown to prevent brain aging over the short-term. But it has not been clear whether fitness throughout adulthood has an impact on brain aging. In particular, it has not been clear how longstanding (or short-lived) an impact midlife fitness might have on late-life cognition.”

Dr. Joseph Masdeu, director of neuroimaging and the Nantz National Alzheimer Center at Houston Methodist Neurological Institute in Texas, praised the study’s design, because data was collected over decades and not subject to misreporting of personal fitness levels. He and Spartano agreed that factors other than fitness may have influenced the findings, and that those with better diets and other lifestyle habits may also be more likely to experience better brain health at older ages.

“This study cannot prove causality, because it’s possible that people with brain changes making them more likely to get Alzheimer’s are going to be less prone to exercising,” Masdeu said. “You can’t prove that exercise is what did it.”

Spartano said she could not recommend an optimal level of fitness to achieve better brain aging based on the study results. But, people should strive for exercise “that will get the heart pumping every day,” Masdeu suggested.

“It’s hard to give a quantified amount of exercise,” he acknowledged. “We are not telling people to run marathons. It’s a good idea to do some aerobic exercise that gets the heart pumping, such as half an hour of walking every day, or going up several fl

The small print: The material presented herein is informational only, and is not designed to provide specific guidance for an individual. Please check with a valued health care provider with any questions or concerns. As for me, I am a Harvard- , Yale- and UPenn-educated radiation oncologist, and I practice in the Seattle, WA (USA) area. I feel genuinely privileged to be able to share with you. If you enjoyed today’s offering, please consider clicking the follow button at the bottom of this page.

Available now: Understand Colon Cancer in 60 Minutes; Understand Brain Glioma in 60 Minutes. Both can be found at the Apple Ibooks store. Coming Soon for iPad: Understand Breast Cancer in 60 Minutes; Understand Colon Cancer in 60 Minuteable now: Understand Colon Cancer in 60 Minutes; Understand Brain Glioma in 60 Minutes. Thank you.

Reference: http://consumer.healthday.com/fitness-information-14/misc-fitness-health-news-312/fit-body-at-40-keeps-brain-bright-at-60-study-697117.html

Smell Test May Help Detect Alzheimer’s Dementia

The Evidence: Scientists have found that individuals who are unable to identify certain odors are more likely to experience cognitive impairment. The researchers believe that brain cells crucial to a person’s sense of smell are killed in the early stages of dementia.

Background: The ability to smell is associated with the first cranial nerve, and is often one of the first things to be affected by cognitive decline. There is growing evidence that the decreased ability to correctly identify odors is a predictor of cognitive impairment and an early clinical feature of Alzheimer’s. As the disease begins to kill brain cells, this often includes cells that are important to the sense of smell.

The Study: Matthew E. Growdon, B.A., M.D./M.P.H. candidate at Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Public Health, and colleagues investigated the associations between sense of smell, memory performance, biomarkers of loss of brain cell function, and amyloid deposition in 215 clinically normal elderly individuals enrolled in the Harvard Aging Brain Study at the Massachusetts General Hospital. The researchers administered the 40-item University of Pennsylvania Smell Identification Test (UPSIT) and a comprehensive battery of cognitive tests. They also measured the size of two brain structures deep in the temporal lobes — the entorhinal cortex and the hippocampus (which are important for memory) — and amyloid deposits in the brain.

Results: Growdon reports that, a smaller hippocampus and a thinner entorhinal cortex were associated with worse smell identification and worse memory. The scientists also found that, in a subgroup of study participants with elevated levels of amyloid in their brain, greater brain cell death, as indicated by a thinner entorhinal cortex, was significantly associated with worse olfactory function — after adjusting for variables including age, gender, and an estimate of cognitive reserve.

“Our research suggests that there may be a role for smell identification testing in clinically normal, older individuals who are at risk for Alzheimer’s disease,” said Growdon. “For example, it may prove useful to identify proper candidates for more expensive or invasive tests. Our findings are promising but must be interpreted with caution. These results reflect a snapshot in time; research conducted over time will give us a better idea of the utility of olfactory testing for early detection of Alzheimer’s.”

My Take: Exercise may reduce your risk of cognitive decline. For those who are able, aim for a minimum of 150 minutes per week of the equivalent of a brisk walk. I’m Dr. Michael Hunter.

Reference: Alzheimer’s Association. “Smell and eye tests show potential to detect Alzheimer’s early.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 13 July 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/07/140713155512.htm>.

Can Exercise Reduce Your Risk of Alzheimer’s Dementia?

What You Need to Know: Exercise may help keep the brain robust among people who have an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, according to an inspiring new study. Even moderate amounts of physical activity may help to slow the progression of one of the most dreaded diseases associated with aging.

Background: Alzheimer’s disease is characterized by a gradual and then quickening loss of memory and cognitive functioning. All of us are vulnerable. But in recent years, scientists have found that individuals with a specific variant of a gene (known as the APOE epsilon4 allele or e4 gene for short) have a substantially increased risk of developing the disease. Brain imaging shows that a memory center (hippocampus) is considerably shrunken among those with Alzheimer’s disease. But, a previous study published in 2011 showed that exercise can slow progression among those with the e4 gene. What that study did not do, however, was look at brain structure.

The Evidence: Researchers at the Cleveland Clinic (Ohio, USA) recruited almost 100 older men and women, ages 65 to 89, many of whom had a family history of Alzheimer’s disease. At the study start, about have the population was found to carry the e4 gene. None showed signs of memory loss beyond what would be expected to be normal for their age.

  • Investigators asked the volunteers how often and intensely they exercised. About half didn’t move at all. But the other half walked, jogged, or otherwise exercised moderately a few times every week.
  • The researchers then did brain scans on the participants. Eighteen months later, they repeated the scan. In this short interval, those with the e4 gene who did not exercise had significant shrinkage of their hippocampus (memory center): It shrank by about 3%. Those who had the e4 gene and regularly exercised had no such shrinkage! Finally those without the e4 gene had little change in the hippocampus. 

My Take: Why not get up and move? I’m Dr. Michael Hunter.

The small print: The material presented herein is informational only, and is not designed to provide specific guidance for an individual. Please check with a valued health care provider with any questions or concerns. As for me, I am a Harvard- , Yale- and UPenn-educated radiation oncologist, and I practice in the Seattle, WA (USA) area. I feel genuinely privileged to be able to share with you. If you enjoyed today’s offering, please consider clicking the follow button at the bottom of this page.

Available now: Understand Colon Cancer in 60 Minutes; Understand Brain Glioma in 60 Minutes. Both can be found at the Apple Ibooks store. Coming Soon for iPad: Understand Breast Cancer in 60 Minutes; Understand Colon Cancer in 60 Minute; Understand Colon Cancer in 60 Minutes; Understand Brain Glioma in 60 Minutes. Thank you.

Reference: Physical activity reduces hippocampal atrophy in elders at genetic risk for Alzheimer’s disease. Front Aging Neurosci 2014; 6: 61.

 

 

Learning Second Language Slows Brain Aging

brain

What You Need to Know: Learning a second language can have a positive effect on the brain, even if it is taken up in adulthood, a University of Edinburgh study suggests. Researchers found that reading, verbal fluency and intelligence were improved in a study of 262 people tested either aged 11 or in their seventies.

Background: A previous study suggested that being bilingual could delay the onset of dementia by several years. The big question in this study was whether learning a new language improved cognitive functions or whether individuals with better cognitive abilities were more likely to become bilingual. Dr Thomas Bak, from the Centre for Cognitive Ageing and Cognitive Epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh, said he believed he had found the answer.

“Millions of people around the world acquire their second language later in life. Our study shows that bilingualism, even when acquired in adulthood, may benefit the aging brain,” offers Dr. Bak.

The Evidence: Using data from intelligence tests on 262 Edinburgh-born individuals at the age of 11, the study looked at how their cognitive abilities had changed when they were tested again in their seventies. The research was conducted between 2008 and 2010.

  • All participants said they were able to communicate in at least one language other than English.
  • Of that group, 195 learned the second language before the age of 18, and 65 learned it after that time.

The findings indicate that those who spoke two or more languages had significantly better cognitive abilities compared to what would have been expected from their baseline test. The strongest effects were seen in general intelligence and reading. The effects were present in those who learned their second language early, as well as later in life.

Dr Bak said the pattern they found was “meaningful” and the improvements in attention, focus and fluency could not be explained by original intelligence. “These findings are of considerable practical relevance. Millions of people around the world acquire their second language later in life. Our study shows that bilingualism, even when acquired in adulthood, may benefit the aging brain.”

But he admitted that the study also raised many questions, such as whether learning more than one language could also have the same positive effect on cognitive ageing and whether actively speaking a second language is better than just knowing how to speak it.

Dr. Alvaro Pascual-Leone, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School in Boston, US, said: “The epidemiological study provides an important first step in understanding the impact of learning a second language and the ageing brain.

“This research paves the way for future causal studies of bilingualism and cognitive decline prevention.”

I’m Dr. Michael Hunter, and I am a big fan of japanesepod101.com (they have a number of other languages that you can study on the fly). The site has both free and for sale components.

The small print: The material presented herein is informational only, and is not designed to provide specific guidance for an individual. Please check with a valued health care provider with any questions or concerns. As for me, I am a Harvard- , Yale- and UPenn-educated radiation oncologist, and I practice in the Seattle, WA (USA) area. I feel genuinely privileged to be able to share with you. If you enjoyed today’s offering, please consider clicking the follow button at the bottom of this page.

Available now: Understand Colon Cancer in 60 Minutes; Understand Brain Glioma in 60 Minutes. Both can be found at the Apple Ibooks store. Coming Soon for iPad: Understand Breast Cancer in 60 Minutes; Understand Colon Cancer in 60 Minute; Understand Colon Cancer in 60 Minutes; Understand Brain Glioma in 60 Minutes. Thank you.

Reference: http://www.bbc.com/news/health-27634990; Annals of Neurology 2014: DOI: 10.1002/ana.24158

Do Pesticides Increase Your Risk for Alzheimer’s Dementia?

hole in brain illustration

While this blog focus on cancer, I remain committed to helping my readers to improve their quality of life. So, today we turn to the pesticide DDT and its relationship to dementia.

What You Need to Know: People who have been exposed at one time to the banned pesticide DDT are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease (AD) in older age, compared to those without a history of such exposure.

The Evidence: Researchers compared blood samples from 86 AD patients with those of a similar group of healthy people, and found that the AD study participants had four times higher blood levels of the DDT byproduct DDE than healthy participants. Those with the highest blood levels of DDE faced a four times greater risk of AD.

What May be Happening: DDT may promote development of toxic beta-amyloid plaque that clogs the brain. The researchers found that among the AD patients with indications of high DDT exposure, those who also had an Alzheimer’s-prone variant of the apolipoprotein E gene were especially likely to show thinking problems.

My Take: DDT has been banned for agricultural use in the USA in 1972, it has a long half life, and still contaminates foods grown in food-exporting countries that use the pesticide. You may want to avoid produce raised in countries that still use DDT for mosquito control, or fish caught in contaminated waterways. I’m Dr. Michael Hunter.

The small print: The material presented herein is informational only, and is not designed to provide specific guidance for an individual. Please check with a valued health care provider with any questions or concerns. As for me, I am a Harvard- , Yale- and UPenn-educated radiation oncologist, and I practice in the Seattle, WA (USA) area. I feel genuinely privileged to be able to share with you. If you enjoyed today’s offering, please consider clicking the follow button at the bottom of this page.

Available now: Understand Colon Cancer in 60 Minutes; Understand Brain Glioma in 60 Minutes. Both can be found at the Apple Ibooks store. Coming Soon for iPad: Understand Breast Cancer in 60 Minutes; Understand Colon Cancer in 60 Minute; Understand Colon Cancer in 60 Minutes; Understand Brain Glioma in 60 Minutes. Thank you.

Reference: JAMA Neurology (online) 27 January 2014

Dementia Risk Reduction: Need Another Reason to Drink Green Tea?

green tea cup and pot

There’s quite a lot to be said for green tea. It has no calorific content of its own to speak of, and doesn’t need sugar or cream to taste great. A steaming cup can warm you up in winter, or you can drop a couple of ice cubes in and cool off with a glass in midsummer. Now, new research suggests that aside from keeping your body trim and your palate pleased, a daily cup of green tea may help keep your mind sharp by warding off the onset of dementia.

Evidence: Researchers from Kanazawa University (Japan), led by neurology professor Masahito Yamada, recently wrapped up a five-year study on the connection between green tea consumption and mental health. During 2007 and 2008, the team interviewed 982 residents over the age of 60 living in Nanao City, located on the Noto Peninsula of Ishikawa Prefecture.

The study participants were asked about their consumption of green tea, black tea, and coffee, and also completed a series of exercises designed to gauge their cognitive capabilities. Five years later, the researchers once met with the 490 subjects who could be located and were available for retesting.

Japanese holding green tea

By comparing the results of the two tests, researchers were able to gauge which participants had developed dementia or other, less severe mental disorders in the time between the two meetings. Arranging the data by how much green tea the group drank showed an astounding difference.

  • Out of the 157 subjects who said they drank green tea every day, only 18, or 11.5 percent, showed mental disorders. The numbers were similar for the subset that drank green tea one to six times a week, with 29 out of 195, or 14.9 percent, having developed problems.
  • In contrast, 43 of the 138 people who said they never drank green tea – a whopping 31.2 percent – displayed signs of diminished mental functions. In other words, drinking green tea daily was associated with a reduction in a subject’s risk of developing dementia or dementia-like symptoms to roughly one-third of those who never partook of Japan’s favorite non-alcoholic beverage.

On the other hand, the researchers were unable to find any such benefits for drinkers of coffee or black tea.

My Take: This isn’t the first study to show a possible link between green tea and mental health. Professor Yamada asserts that the results of his team’s study have an especially high level of credibility, due to the length of time between the two tests. I would soften the statement, as while the study shows an association between green tea consumption and a lower risk of dementia, it does not establish causality. Still, this study adds to a growing body of evidence pointing to a potential role of green consumption in reducing your risk of dementia. Now if you’ll excuse me, I think my tea is ready.

The small print: The material presented herein is informational only, and is not designed to provide specific guidance for an individual. Please check with a valued health care provider with any questions or concerns. As for me, I am a Harvard- , Yale- and UPenn-educated radiation oncologist, and I practice in the Seattle, WA (USA) area. I feel genuinely privileged to be able to share with you. If you enjoyed today’s offering, please consider clicking the follow button at the bottom of this page.

Available now: Understand Colon Cancer in 60 Minutes; Understand Brain Glioma in 60 Minutes. Both can be found at the Apple Ibooks store. Coming Soon for iPad: Understand Breast Cancer in 60 Minutes; Understand Colon Cancer in 60 Minute; Understand Colon Cancer in 60 Minutes; Understand Brain Glioma in 60 Minutes. Thank you.

Reference: http://en.rocketnews24.com/2014/05/17/need-another-reason-to-drink-green-tea-how-about-preventing-dementia/