2012 June 05 Tuesday
Coffee Cuts Alzheimer's Disease Risk

Not really a new story. But here's more evidence for the protective effects of coffee. Caffeine and/or other chemicals in coffee cut the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease risk.

Tampa, FL (June 4, 2012) Those cups of coffee that you drink every day to keep alert appear to have an extra perk – especially if you're an older adult. A recent study monitoring the memory and thinking processes of people older than 65 found that all those with higher blood caffeine levels avoided the onset of Alzheimer's disease in the two-to-four years of study follow-up. Moreover, coffee appeared to be the major or only source of caffeine for these individuals.

Researchers from the University of South Florida (www.usf.edu) and the University of Miami (www.miami.edu)say the case control study provides the first direct evidence that caffeine/coffee intake is associated with a reduced risk of dementia or delayed onset. Their findings will appear in the online version of an article to be published June 5 in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, published by IOS Press (http://health.usf.edu/nocms/publicaffairs/now/pdfs/JAD111781.pdf). The collaborative study involved 124 people, ages 65 to 88, in Tampa and Miami.

Speaking as someone who is not a coffee fan: How else to get the benefit? See the bottom of the post for hints on how coffee delivers this benefit. It is a synergistic effect between caffeine and something else in coffee.

Maybe older adults with mild memory impairment ought to start heavy coffee drinkingn.

"These intriguing results suggest that older adults with mild memory impairment who drink moderate levels of coffee -- about 3 cups a day -- will not convert to Alzheimer's disease -- or at least will experience a substantial delay before converting to Alzheimer's," said study lead author Dr. Chuanhai Cao, a neuroscientist at the USF College of Pharmacy (http://health.usf.edu/nocms/pharmacy/) and the USF Health Byrd Alzheimer's Institute (http://health.usf.edu/nocms/byrd/). "The results from this study, along with our earlier studies in Alzheimer's mice, are very consistent in indicating that moderate daily caffeine/coffee intake throughout adulthood should appreciably protect against Alzheimer's disease later in life."

It is amazing that a beverage that humans have been drinking for over a thousand years can deliver more brain protection benefit than any drug so far devised by the pharmaceutical industry and academic researchers.

The study shows this protection probably occurs even in older people with early signs of the disease, called mild cognitive impairment, or MCI. Patients with MCI already experience some short-term memory loss and initial Alzheimer's pathology in their brains. Each year, about 15 percent of MCI patients progress to full-blown Alzheimer's disease. The researchers focused on study participants with MCI, because many were destined to develop Alzheimer's within a few years.

Blood caffeine levels at the study's onset were substantially lower (51 percent less) in participants diagnosed with MCI who progressed to dementia during the two-to-four year follow-up than in those whose mild cognitive impairment remained stable over the same period.

Sounds like some pretty heavy coffee drinking is needed for maximum benefit.

No one with MCI who later developed Alzheimer's had initial blood caffeine levels above a critical level of 1200 ng/ml – equivalent to drinking several cups of coffee a few hours before the blood sample was drawn. In contrast, many with stable MCI had blood caffeine levels higher than this critical level.

Coffee cuts other disease risks.

In addition to Alzheimer's disease, moderate caffeine/coffee intake appears to reduce the risk of several other diseases of aging, including Parkinson's disease, stroke, Type II diabetes, and breast cancer. However, supporting studies for these benefits have all been observational (uncontrolled), and controlled clinical trials are needed to definitively demonstrate therapeutic value.

A study tracking the health and coffee consumption of more than 400,000 older adults for 13 years, and published earlier this year in the New England Journal of Medicine, found that coffee drinkers reduced their risk of dying from heart disease, lung disease, pneumonia, stroke, diabetes, infections, and even injuries and accidents.

In 2011 this same USF research group showed that at least in mice caffeine and some other component(s) of coffee act to boost cytokines and their results suggest boosting these cytokines causes the benefit.

. In both AβPPsw+PS1 transgenic mice and non-transgenic littermates, acute i.p. treatment with caffeinated coffee greatly and specifically increased plasma levels of granulocyte-colony stimulating factor (GCSF), IL-10, and IL-6. Neither caffeine solution alone (which provided high plasma caffeine levels) or decaffeinated coffee provided this effect, indicating that caffeine synergized with some as yet unidentified component of coffee to selectively elevate these three plasma cytokines. The increase in GCSF is particularly important because long-term treatment with coffee (but not decaffeinated coffee) enhanced working memory in a fashion that was associated only with increased plasma GCSF levels among all cytokines. Since we have previously reported that long-term GCSF treatment enhances cognitive performance in AD mice through three possible mechanisms (e.g., recruitment of microglia from bone marrow, synaptogenesis, and neurogenesis), the same mechanisms could be complimentary to caffeine's established ability to suppress Aβ production. We conclude that coffee may be the best source of caffeine to protect against AD because of a component in coffee that synergizes with caffeine to enhance plasma GCSF levels, resulting in multiple therapeutic actions against AD.

We need other ways to boost these cytokines. Anyone familiar with the research literature who knows other ways to do this?

By Randall Parker    2012 June 05 09:18 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (21)
2012 May 17 Thursday
DHA Cancels Harmful Sugar Effects On Rat Brains

Smarter rats eat fish.

Attention, college students cramming between midterms and finals: Binging on soda and sweets for as little as six weeks may make you stupid.

A new UCLA rat study is the first to show how a diet steadily high in fructose slows the brain, hampering memory and learning — and how omega-3 fatty acids can counteract the disruption. The peer-reviewed Journal of Physiology publishes the findings in its May 15 edition.

"Our findings illustrate that what you eat affects how you think," said Fernando Gomez-Pinilla, a professor of neurosurgery at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and a professor of integrative biology and physiology in the UCLA College of Letters and Science. "Eating a high-fructose diet over the long term alters your brain's ability to learn and remember information. But adding omega-3 fatty acids to your meals can help minimize the damage."

While earlier research has revealed how fructose harms the body through its role in diabetes, obesity and fatty liver, this study is the first to uncover how the sweetener influences the brain.

High-fructose corn syrup makes rats dumber.

The UCLA team zeroed in on high-fructose corn syrup, an inexpensive liquid six times sweeter than cane sugar, that is commonly added to processed foods, including soft drinks, condiments, applesauce and baby food. The average American consumes more than 40 pounds of high-fructose corn syrup per year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

"We're not talking about naturally occurring fructose in fruits, which also contain important antioxidants," explained Gomez-Pinilla, who is also a member of UCLA's Brain Research Institute and Brain Injury Research Center. "We're concerned about high-fructose corn syrup that is added to manufactured food products as a sweetener and preservative."

I eat a lot of berries,cherries, and dark grapes. They've got lots of antioxidants along with the fructose.

Gomez-Pinilla and study co-author Rahul Agrawal, a UCLA visiting postdoctoral fellow from India, studied two groups of rats that each consumed a fructose solution as drinking water for six weeks. The second group also received omega-3 fatty acids in the form of flaxseed oil and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which protects against damage to the synapses — the chemical connections between brain cells that enable memory and learning.

"DHA is essential for synaptic function — brain cells' ability to transmit signals to one another," Gomez-Pinilla said. "This is the mechanism that makes learning and memory possible. Our bodies can't produce enough DHA, so it must be supplemented through our diet."

One gram of DHA per day.

Still planning to throw caution to the wind and indulge in a hot-fudge sundae? Then also eat foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, like salmon, walnuts and flaxseeds, or take a daily DHA capsule. Gomez-Pinilla recommends one gram of DHA per day.

This is a useful reminder to get on daily DHA.

By Randall Parker    2012 May 17 10:02 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (3)
2012 April 26 Thursday
Blueberries And Strawberries Slow Cognitive Decline

Since I usually have strawberries in the fridge and eat some every day this news is gratifying: Nurses who ate more berries mentally declined more slowly. Want to hit each mental decline milestone about 2.5 years later? Make berries part of your regular diet.

The research team used data from the Nurses' Health Study—a cohort of 121,700 female, registered nurses between the ages of 30 and 55 who completed health and lifestyle questionnaires beginning in 1976. Since 1980 participants were surveyed every four years regarding their frequency of food consumption. Between 1995 and 2001, cognitive function was measured in 16,010 subjects over the age of 70 years, at 2-year intervals. Women included in the present study had a mean age of 74 and mean body mass index of 26.

Findings show that increased consumption of blueberries and strawberries appear to slow cognitive decline in older women. A greater intake of anthocyanidins and total flavonoids was also associated with reduce cognitive degeneration. Researchers observed that women who had higher berry intake delayed cognitive aging by up to 2.5 years. The authors caution that while they did control for other health factors in the modeling, they cannot rule out the possibility that the preserved cognition in those who eat more berries may be also influenced by other lifestyle choices, such as exercising more.

"We provide the first epidemiologic evidence that berries may slow progression of cognitive decline in elderly women," notes Dr. Devore. "Our findings have significant public health implications as increasing berry intake is a fairly simple dietary modification to test cognition protection in older adults."

Note there's uncertainty on whether berries or exercise explain these results. Okay, so exercise more and eat berries. Then you'll be covered either way.

Do the berries. They taste good anyway. But keep in mind that a 2.5 year delay in brain decline isn't a huge amount. We still need brain rejuvenation therapies.

This report is consistent with other reports that suggest brain benefits from berry consumption. See my previous posts Blueberries Improve Elderly Brain Function? and Berry Eaters Less Likely To Get Parkinson's Disease.

By Randall Parker    2012 April 26 10:46 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (5)
2012 April 04 Wednesday
Flavonoids Cut Parkinson's Disease Risk In Men Only?

Berries, grapes, tea: get flavonoids to cut your risk of Parkinson's disease. If these compounds really do protect against Parkinson's they probably slow brain aging in general. But the weird result: The benefit was only seen in men. Why?

Men who eat flavonoid-rich foods such as berries, tea, apples and red wine significantly reduce their risk of developing Parkinson's disease, according to new research by Harvard University and the University of East Anglia (UEA).

Published today in the journal Neurology ®, the findings add to the growing body of evidence that regular consumption of some flavonoids can have a marked effect on human health. Recent studies have shown that these compounds can offer protection against a wide range of diseases including heart disease, hypertension, some cancers and dementia.

This latest study is the first study in humans to show that flavonoids can protect neurons against diseases of the brain such as Parkinson's.

Around 130,000 men and women took part in the research. More than 800 had developed Parkinson's disease within 20 years of follow-up. After a detailed analysis of their diets and adjusting for age and lifestyle, male participants who ate the most flavonoids were shown to be 40 per cent less likely to develop the disease than those who ate the least. No similar link was found for total flavonoid intake in women.

Again, why? Does estrogen already provide the protective effect that flavonoids provide for men?

By Randall Parker    2012 April 04 10:30 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (9)
2012 February 28 Tuesday
Omega 3 Fatty Acids Slow Brain Aging?

Fish might help you slow the rate of mental decline. You'll still be on the downhill slope. But the slope will be a little less steep.

ST. PAUL, Minn. – A diet lacking in omega-3 fatty acids, nutrients commonly found in fish, may cause your brain to age faster and lose some of its memory and thinking abilities, according to a study published in the February 28, 2012, print issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology. Omega-3 fatty acids include the nutrients called docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).

"People with lower blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids had lower brain volumes that were equivalent to about two years of structural brain aging," said study author Zaldy S. Tan, MD, MPH, of the Easton Center for Alzheimer's Disease Research and the Division of Geriatrics, University of California at Los Angeles.

For the study, 1,575 people with an average age of 67 and free of dementia underwent MRI brain scans. They were also given tests that measured mental function, body mass and the omega-3 fatty acid levels in their red blood cells.

The researchers found that people whose DHA levels were among the bottom 25 percent of the participants had lower brain volume compared to people who had higher DHA levels. Similarly, participants with levels of all omega-3 fatty acids in the bottom 25 percent also scored lower on tests of visual memory and executive function, such as problem solving and multi-tasking and abstract thinking.

More here.

Really can't get into eating fish? Some whimsy might help. Makes me like trout a lot more.

What we really need: stem cell therapies, gene therapies, and other treatments to repair the aging brain and turn back the biological clock. Minds made youthful again will soar to higher levels of productivity as years of experience combine with better memory and the ability to think much faster and learn more easily.

By Randall Parker    2012 February 28 10:10 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (8)
2012 February 19 Sunday
Curcumin Boosts Neurogenesis In Aged Rats

A group of researchers mostly in Shanghai but also in Bangalore and the Netherlands finds that aged rats given a diet with curcumin (found in the spice turmeric) had more neurogenesis and increased cognition. (h/t Lou Pagnucco)

We assessed behavioural performance and hippocampal cell proliferation in aged rats after 6- and 12-week curcumin-fortified diets. Curcumin enhanced non-spatial and spatial memory, as well as dentate gyrate cell proliferation as compared to control diet rats. We also investigated underlying mechanistic pathways that might link curcumin treatment to increased cognition and neurogenesis via exon array analysis of cortical and hippocampal mRNA transcription. The results revealed a transcriptional network interaction of genes involved in neurotransmission, neuronal development, signal transduction, and metabolism in response to the curcumin treatment.

Sounds good at first glance.

The results suggest a neurogenesis- and cognition-enhancing potential of prolonged curcumin treatment in aged rats, which may be due to its diverse effects on genes related to growth and plasticity.

But even if the effect is similar in humans the question arises: Will sustained higher curcumin consumption lower or raise all cause mortality? The body has lots of things going wrong with it as we age. Trying to counteract these changes with a chemical compound carries substantial risks. For example, turning up neurogenesis might so increase the rate of neural stem cell division that neural stem cells wear out more rapidly. Their telomeres would wear down sooner (and shorter telomeres are bad news for life expectancy). So you might get a boost of cognitive performance for some years. But then once your neural stem cells become worn out you could find yourself checking out of the Life Hotel sooner than otherwise necessary.

What we really need: Ways to make younger and healthier stem cells that can be injected into the body in various places as we age. This will be easiest for stem cells for blood cells since just injection in the blood will probably get them where they need to be. But getting youthful stem cells into all the (many) places they need to go in the brain might turn out to be extremely difficult. Anyone got a good sense of how hard that'll be to accomplish?

By Randall Parker    2012 February 19 07:19 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (10)
2011 April 12 Tuesday
Weight Loss Improves Memory Of Obese

Take off the weight and bring back the memory.

John Gunstad, an associate professor in Kent State University's Department of Psychology, and a team of researchers have discovered a link between weight loss and improved memory and concentration. The study shows that bariatric surgery patients exhibited improved memory function 12 weeks after their operations.

The findings will be published in an upcoming issue of Surgery for Obesity and Related Diseases, the Official Journal of the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery. The research report is also available online at www.soard.org/article/S1550-7289(10)00688-X/abstract.

Obese people who lose weight improve their cardiovascular risk factors. On a related note, older adults with risk factors for stroke have a greater risk of cognitive decline. The same factors that put your cardiovascular system at risk also put your mind at risk.

Older adults at risk for stroke have significantly increased risk for some types of cognitive decline, according to a multicenter study led by University of California scientists.

The study, which involved 73 older women and men who had not had a stroke and did not have dementia, showed that participants had substantially greater risk for decline in some aspects of "executive function" – specifically in verbal fluency and the ability to ignore irrelevant information. Verbal memory and short term, or "working memory," were not affected.

The sorts of risk factors that boost heart disease risk and risk of cognitive decline would also be improved for the obese by weight loss.

They assessed participants' risk for coronary artery disease using the widely used Framingham Coronary Risk Score, which incorporates coronary artery disease risk factors – age, cholesterol levels, blood pressure, presence of diabetes, and smoking status – to generate a person's risk of stroke within 10 years.

Aside from losing weight what to do to improve your cardiovascular system and therefore your brain? How about tart cherries? Or an old standard: an apple a day keeps the LDL cholesterol away.

This study randomly assigned 160 women ages 45-65 to one of two dietary intervention groups: one received dried apples daily (75g/day for 1 year) and the other group ate dried prunes every day for a year. Blood samples were taken at 3, 6 and 12-months. The results surprised Dr. Arjmandi, who stated that "incredible changes in the apple-eating women happened by 6 months- they experienced a 23% decrease in LDL cholesterol," which is known as the "bad cholesterol." The daily apple consumption also led to a lowering of lipid hydroperoxide levels and C-reactive protein in those women.

By Randall Parker    2011 April 12 11:12 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (2)
2011 February 14 Monday
Berry Eaters Less Likely To Get Parkinson's Disease

Berries are better.

ST. PAUL, Minn. –New research shows men and women who regularly eat berries may have a lower risk of developing Parkinson's disease, while men may also further lower their risk by regularly eating apples, oranges and other sources rich in dietary components called flavonoids. The study was released today and will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology's 63rd Annual Meeting in Honolulu April 9 to April 16, 2011.

Flavonoids are found in plants and fruits and are also known collectively as vitamin P and citrin. They can also be found in berry fruits, chocolate, and citrus fruits such as grapefruit.

The study involved 49,281 men and 80,336 women. Researchers gave participants questionnaires and used a database to calculate intake amount of flavonoids. They then analyzed the association between flavonoid intakes and risk of developing Parkinson's disease. They also analyzed consumption of five major sources of foods rich in flavonoids: tea, berries, apples, red wine and oranges or orange juice. The participants were followed for 20 to 22 years.

Rise out of the ranks of the low berry consumers. Get bags of cranberries or frozen blueberries or even fresh berries when they are available.

Note the reference to anthocyanins. Those are the sugar-containing equivalents of anthocyanidins. If you aim for foods high in anthocyanins or anthocyanidins or related compounds you end up eating mostly the same foods. Proanthocyanidins (a.k.a. procyanidins) are polymers of flavonoids. In a previous post I pointed to a proanthocyanidin database (in PDF format). You can browse thru the document to look for food ideas aimed at boosting your flavonoid intake.

That USDA Procyanidin Database makes for interesting reading (at least to me). Raw pinto beans are up there with unsweetened chocolate in terms of procyanidin antioxidants and you can eat a lot more pinto beans than chocolate. But cooked pinto beans have about 2 orders of magnitude less of the good stuff. Is that accurate? Blueberries and cranberries are excellent sources. Ditto hazelnuts, pecans, and pistachios. Sorghum is highly excellent. I had no idea. But that's typically cooked. Whereas you can eat the berries and nuts raw. My advice: eat the berries and nuts.

These are familiar foods for healthy eating. You can choose to eat them for your nervous system or for your heart or to avoid cancer.

By Randall Parker    2011 February 14 04:32 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (3)
2010 November 10 Wednesday
DHA Delays Early Brain Decline

Use omega 3 fatty acid DHA for your brain if you are getting up in the years.

WASHINGTON, D.C., November 8, 2010 — A study published in the November edition of Alzheimer's & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer's Association suggests that taking docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) may improve memory and learning in older adults with mild cognitive impairments. This is promising news for many aging Americans who are searching for options to maintain memory and support overall cognitive health.

The "Memory Improvement with Docosahexaenoic Acid Study" (MIDAS) was a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study to evaluate the effects of DHA—the principle omega-3 fatty acid in the brain—on improving cognitive functions in healthy older adults with age-related cognitive decline. The study found that DHA taken for six months improved memory and learning in healthy, older adults with mild memory complaints.

It is far more sensible to improve your diet and therefore improve brain nutrition as early in life as possible than to try to intervene against Alzheimer's after brain aging as gotten so far advanced that it becomes a clinically recognizable disease.

While another recent study found that DNA does not work against already diagnosed Alzheimer's these researchers think DNA will help at an earlier stage of brain aging.

These findings underscore the importance of early DHA intervention. While the MIDAS study focused on a population of healthy adults with age-associated memory impairment, a study recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), conducted in a population that had previously been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, did not indicate DHA provided a statistically significant benefit to cognitive function. The lead author of the JAMA study also highlighted that their results may have been different had DHA been administered before the participants' disease progressed.

By Randall Parker    2010 November 10 10:59 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (5)
2010 November 02 Tuesday
Beet Juice Boosts Blood Brain Flow In Older Adults

Beet juice for the brain.

Winston-Salem, N.C. – Researchers for the first time have shown that drinking beet juice can increase blood flow to the brain in older adults – a finding that could hold great potential for combating the progression of dementia.

The research findings are available online in Nitric Oxide: Biology and Chemistry, the peer-reviewed journal of the Nitric Oxide Society and will be available in print soon. (Read the abstract.)

"There have been several very high-profile studies showing that drinking beet juice can lower blood pressure, but we wanted to show that drinking beet juice also increases perfusion, or blood flow, to the brain," said Daniel Kim-Shapiro, director of Wake Forest University's Translational Science Center; Fostering Independence in Aging. "There are areas in the brain that become poorly perfused as you age, and that's believed to be associated with dementia and poor cognition."

I wonder whether this is the best way to achieve better brain blood flow. Would a better diet avoid constriction of blood vessels that the nitrites are opening? What are the downsides to consuming so much nitrates?

The high-nitrate diet improved blood flow to the frontal lobes.

The MRIs showed that after eating a high-nitrate diet, the older adults had increased blood flow to the white matter of the frontal lobes – the areas of the brain commonly associated with degeneration that leads to dementia and other cognitive conditions.

By Randall Parker    2010 November 02 11:23 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (5)
2010 October 20 Wednesday
Low B12 Boosts Alzheimer's Disease Risk?

Low vitamin B12 and high serum homocysteine are associated with higher risk of developing Alzheimer's Disease.

The odds ratio for developing Alzheimer's disease after about seven years was increased, at 1.16 (95% CI 1.04 to 1.31) for each 1 μmol/L elevation in baseline homocysteine, according to Babak Hooshmand, MD, of Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, and colleagues.

In contrast, for each 1 pmol/L increase in the baseline level of the vitamin B12 fraction holotranscobalamin (holoTC), the odds ratio for later Alzheimer's disease was decreased, at 0.980 (95% CI 0.965 to 0.995), the investigators reported in the Oct. 19 issue of Neurology.

This is not the first research report to make this connection. However, since one cause of lower serum B12 is poorer intestinal absorption lower B12 might be a sign of an especially aged digestive tract and poorer general nutritional state. The impaired digestive tract might boost Alzheimer's risk via mechanisms other than via B12 deficiency.

If you are older it still would be prudent to get your blood B12 level checked. Deficiency of B12 is harmful to health for other reasons aside from Alzheimer's risk. Periodic B12 injections can get around the absorption problem.

By Randall Parker    2010 October 20 11:22 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (4)
2010 September 13 Monday
Livers Make Less Omega 3 Fat In Alzheimer's Patients

Omega 3 fatty acid DHA, found in fish, is not produced as much in livers of Alzheimer's patients and this causes brain depletion of DHA.

Irvine, Calif. — UC Irvine researchers have discovered that markedly depleted amounts of an omega-3 fatty acid in brain tissue samples from Alzheimer's patients may be due to the liver's inability to produce the complex fat, also contained in fish-oil supplements.

Low levels of docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA, have been associated with the chronic neurodegenerative disease affecting millions of Americans, but no cause had been identified.

In postmortem liver tissue from Alzheimer's patients, the UCI team found a defect in the organ's ability to make DHA from shorter molecules present in leafy plants and other foods. Previous studies have shown that most brain DHA is manufactured in the liver.

Non-Alzheimer's livers did not have this defect, said Daniele Piomelli, the Louise Turner Arnold Chair in the Neurosciences and director of the Center for Drug Discovery at UCI, who led the research with Giuseppe Astarita, project scientist in pharmacology.

What I wonder: Will genetic tests eventually tell some of us we need to get more DHA due to genetically-caused liver enzyme deficiencies? Short of that, blood tests could at least indicate low DHA levels. Then again, you could just eat salmon regularly and live in ignorance of whether your liver is synthesizing DHA.

Want another reason to get more DHA into your diet? Other recent research also shed light on how the anti-inflammatory and anti-diabetic mechanisms of omega 3 fatty acids work:

Fish oil is touted for its anti-inflammatory and anti-diabetic benefits, but scientist weren't sure how the omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil work. Now, according to a report in the September 3rd issue of the journal Cell, scientists have nailed how omega-3 fatty acids both shut down inflammation and reverse diabetes in obese mice.

Omega-3s alleviate inflammation by acting on a receptor (GPR120) found in fat tissue and on inflammatory immune cells called macrophages, studies in mice show.

"Omega-3s are very potent activators of GPR120 on macrophages -- more potent than any other anti-inflammatory we've ever seen," said Jerrold Olefsky of the University of California, San Diego.

By Randall Parker    2010 September 13 11:53 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (8)
2010 July 11 Sunday
Exercise, Tea, Vitamin D Tied To Lower Dementia Risk

Aging folks who got larger amounts of exercise had 40% lower risk of developing any form of cognitive impairment (dementia or Alzheimer's Disease).

Zaldy Tan, MD, MPH, of Brigham and Women's Hospital, GRECC, VA Boston, and Harvard Medical School, and colleagues estimated the levels of 24-hour physical activity of more than 1,200 elderly participants from the Framingham Study (742 female; age 76 +\-5) during the study's 20th examination cycle (1986-87) and followed them for the development of dementia. They divided the participants into five groups based on level of physical activity, from lowest (Q1) to highest (Q5).

Over two decades of follow-up (mean 9.9 +/-5 years), 242 participants developed dementia (of which 193 were Alzheimer's). The researchers found that participants who performed moderate to heavy levels of physical activity had about a 40 percent lower risk of developing any type of dementia. Further, people who reported the lowest levels of physical activity were 45 percent more likely to develop any type of dementia compared to those who reported higher levels of activity. Similar results were seen when analyses were limited to Alzheimer's alone. Analyses showed that the observed associations were largely evident in men in the study.

Hiking, biking, running, swimming, weight lifting, tennis, take your pick. Do it regularly.

Tea is associated with a reduction in cognitive decline. Note, though, that the biggest decline came from drinking only 1-4 times per week. That seems odd. Also, just drinking 1-3 times per month yielded almost as much benefit.

Lenore Arab, PhD, of UCLA, and colleagues used data on more than 4,800 men and women aged 65 and older from the Cardiovascular Health Study to examine the relationship between consumption of tea, coffee, and change in cognitive function over time. Study participants were followed up for up to 14 years for naturally-occurring cognitive decline using the Mini-Mental State Examination (3MSE) administered at baseline and annually up to 8 times. People scored on the average 1.17 points less per year. Tea and coffee drinking were assessed using a food frequency questionnaire.

The researchers found that people who consumed tea at a variety of levels had significantly less cognitive decline (17-37 percent) than non-tea drinkers. More specifically, study participants who drank tea 5-10 times/year, 1-3 times/month, 1-4 times/week, and 5+ times/week had average annual rates of decline 17 percent, 32 percent, 37 percent, and 26 percent lower, respectively, than non-tea drinkers.

Again, I find that an unusual result. Does daily tea have some sort of toxic effect?

My guess is you'd be better off eating blueberries and other potent berry sources of flavonoids. But fruits and vegetables in general are associated with very large decreases in dementia risks. More here.

Only the highest level of coffee consumption appears to cut dementia risk. But how are those people managing to sleep with all that caffeine in their bodies?

According to the scientists, coffee consumption did not show any effect except at the very highest level of consumption – where it was associated with significantly decreased decline of 20 percent.

Vitamin D deficiency is strongly associated with cognitive impairment.

David Llewellyn, PhD, of the University of Exeter Peninsula Medical School (UK), and colleagues examined information from 3,325 adults aged 65 years and older from the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III), a study that was carefully designed to accurately represent the U.S. non-institutionalized population. Vitamin D levels were measured from blood samples and compared with performance on a measure of general cognitive function that incorporated tests of memory, orientation in time and space, and ability to maintain attention.

The researchers classified participants as being cognitively impaired if they scored in the worst 10 percent of older adults in the study. They found that the odds of cognitive impairment were about 42 percent higher in those people who were deficient in vitamin D, and 394 percent higher in people who were severely deficient.

If you do outdoor exercise in warm weather you can get more vitamin D and exercise at the same time.

By Randall Parker    2010 July 11 10:22 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (5)
2010 May 06 Thursday
Chocolate Compound Good Against Strokes?

Time for another post about the burden of healthy eating. You ought to eat chocolate in case you have a stroke. The chemical epicatechin in chocolate provides protection.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins have discovered that a compound in dark chocolate may protect the brain after a stroke by increasing cellular signals already known to shield nerve cells from damage.

Ninety minutes after feeding mice a single modest dose of epicatechin, a compound found naturally in dark chocolate, the scientists induced an ischemic stroke by essentially cutting off blood supply to the animals' brains. They found that the animals that had preventively ingested the epicatechin suffered significantly less brain damage than the ones that had not been given the compound.

Do not go too many hours without eating chocolate.

While most treatments against stroke in humans have to be given within a two- to three-hour time window to be effective, epicatechin appeared to limit further neuronal damage when given to mice 3.5 hours after a stroke. Given six hours after a stroke, however, the compound offered no protection to brain cells.

In many chocolates the epicatechin is destroyed by processing.

"The epicatechin found in dark chocolate is extremely sensitive to changes in heat and light" he says. "In the process of making chocolate, you have to make sure you don't destroy it. Only few chocolates have the active ingredient. The fact that it says 'dark chocolate' is not sufficient."

I've read that Mars retains more flavonoids in their Dove dark chocolate. I haven't found a good web source comparing flavonoids in different chocolates.

It is possible to mix that chocolate in with other foods high in epicatechin. Apples have 8 mg of epicatechin per 100 grams (3 and a half ounces) as do black grapes and raspberries. Blackberries have 18 mg. Broadbeans and cherries are also good sources. Most of the berries and cherries are good sources (so eat dark chocolate with cherry inside). But dark chocolate has 5 times as much as apples and grapes per 100 grams. Tea is a good source, especially green tea.

By Randall Parker    2010 May 06 10:22 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (4)
2010 April 12 Monday
Foods For Lower Alzheimer's Disease Risk

The list is pretty predictable: Mediterranean diet foods good, red meats and dairy bad.

Individuals whose diet includes more salad dressing, nuts, fish, poultry and certain fruits and vegetables and fewer high-fat dairy products, red meats, organ meats and butter appear less likely to develop Alzheimer's disease, according to a report posted online today that will appear in the June print issue of Archives of Neurology, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.

Don't want to lose your brain in your final years of life? Eat the good stuff, avoid the bad stuff.

"Epidemiological evidence linking diet, one of the most important modifiable environmental factors, and risk of Alzheimer's disease is rapidly increasing," the authors write as background information in the article. "However, current literature regarding the impact of individual nutrients or food items on Alzheimer's disease risk is inconsistent, partly because humans eat meals with complex combinations of nutrients or food items that are likely to be synergistic."

Yian Gu, Ph.D., of Columbia University Medical Center, New York, and colleagues studied 2,148 older adults (age 65 and older) without dementia living in New York. Participants provided information about their diets and were assessed for the development of dementia every 1.5 years for an average of four years. Several dietary patterns were identified with varying levels of seven nutrients previously shown to be associated with Alzheimer's disease risk: saturated fatty acids, monounsaturated fatty acids, omega-3 fatty acids, omega-6 fatty acids, vitamin E, vitamin B12 and folate.

The way I'd really like to avoid Alzheimer's and other diseases of old age: Get in a time machine and pop out 50 years from now when rejuvenation therapies will be able to turn back the clock and make us young again.

By Randall Parker    2010 April 12 10:56 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (6)
2010 February 23 Tuesday
Mid Life Overweight Faster Mental Decline

Keep off the pounds or lose your mind more rapidly.

The adverse affects of being overweight are not limited to physical function but also extend to neurological function, according to research in the latest issue of The Journals of Gerontology Series A: Biological and Medical Sciences (Volume 65A, Number 1).

The publication presents a collection of ten articles highlighting new findings related to obesity in older persons.

"One of the unanticipated consequences of improved medical management of cardiovascular disease is that many obese individuals reach old age,” said Journal of Gerontology: Medical Sciences Editor Luigi Ferrucci, MD, PhD, of the National Institute on Aging. “We need a better understanding of the causes and consequences of obesity in older individuals — especially when obesity is associated with sarcopenia.”

A study headed by Anna Dahl, MS, of Sweden’s Jönköping University, found that individuals with higher midlife body mass index (BMI) scores had significantly lower general cognitive ability and significantly steeper decline than their thinner counterparts over time. These statistics were compiled from a study of Swedish twins that took place over the course of nearly 40 years, from 1963 to 2002; the results were the same for both men and women.

The press release also describes how people with a history of cyclical weight loss and gain have more problems in their old age. Try to lose weight in a way that you can keep it off. Of course, that's much easier to say than do.

We need great weight loss drugs that adjust the metabolism to keep weight off without side effects.

By Randall Parker    2010 February 23 10:45 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (11)
2010 January 20 Wednesday
Blueberries Improve Elderly Brain Function?

Lab animal Eat those blueberries.

Scientists are reporting the first evidence from human research that blueberries — one of the richest sources of healthful antioxidants and other so-called phytochemicals — improve memory. They said the study establishes a basis for comprehensive human clinical trials to determine whether blueberries really deserve their growing reputation as a memory enhancer. A report on the study appears in ACS' Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, a bi-weekly publication.

Robert Krikorian and colleagues point out that previous studies in laboratory animals suggest that eating blueberries may help boost memory in the aged. Until now, however, there had been little scientific work aimed at testing the effect of blueberry supplementation on memory in people.

In the study, one group of volunteers in their 70s with early memory decline drank the equivalent of 2-2 l/2 cups of a commercially available blueberry juice every day for two months. A control group drank a beverage without blueberry juice. The blueberry juice group showed significant improvement on learning and memory tests, the scientists say. "These preliminary memory findings are encouraging and suggest that consistent supplementation with blueberries may offer an approach to forestall or mitigate neurodegeneration," said the report. The research involved scientists from the University of Cincinnati, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the Canadian department of agriculture.

Other research finds vegetables and berries slow brain aging. More here and here.

By Randall Parker    2010 January 20 11:52 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2009 October 12 Monday
Mediterranean Diet Cuts Depression?

Eat a better diet to cut your risks of depression.

The researchers studied 10,094 healthy Spanish participants who completed an initial questionnaire between 1999 and 2005. Participants reported their dietary intake on a food frequency questionnaire, and the researchers calculated their adherence to the Mediterranean diet based on nine components (high ratio of monounsaturated fatty acids to saturated fatty acids; moderate intake of alcohol and dairy products; low intake of meat; and high intake of legumes, fruit and nuts, cereals, vegetables and fish).

30% reduction in the risk of depression

After a median (midpoint) of 4.4 years of follow-up, 480 new cases of depression were identified, including 156 in men and 324 in women. Individuals who followed the Mediterranean diet most closely had a greater than 30 percent reduction in the risk of depression than those who had the lowest Mediterranean diet scores.

The diet makes sense for other reasons. But the mechanisms via which the diet improves metabolism can be expected to help brain function.

"The specific mechanisms by which a better adherence to the Mediterranean dietary pattern could help to prevent the occurrence of depression are not well known," the authors write. Components of the diet may improve blood vessel function, fight inflammation, reduce risk for heart disease and repair oxygen-related cell damage, all of which may decrease the chances of developing depression.

By Randall Parker    2009 October 12 12:00 AM   Entry Permalink | Comments (2)
2009 August 24 Monday
Obesity Accelerates Brain Aging?

We really need effective appetite suppression drugs. Obese older people have smaller brains than non-obese old people.

BRAIN regions key to cognition are smaller in older people who are obese compared with their leaner peers, making their brains look up to 16 years older than their true age. As brain shrinkage is linked to dementia, this adds weight to the suspicion that piling on the pounds may up a person's risk of the brain condition.

This latest report supports previous findings. See my post from 2004: Chronic Pain And Obesity Both Cause Brain Damage.

The history of weight loss diets is a history of failure. The vast majority of dieters eventually regain all their lost weight. Anyone have success in losing a lot of weight and keeping it off for years? If so, how'd you do it?

By Randall Parker    2009 August 24 10:19 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (4)
2009 August 13 Thursday
Mediterranean Diet Linked To Lower Alzheimer's Disease

Eat the Mediterranean Diet for your brain.

Elderly individuals who had a diet that included higher consumption of fruits, vegetables, legumes, cereal and fish and was low in red meat and poultry and who were physically active had an associated lower risk of Alzheimer disease, according to a study in the August 12 issue of JAMA. In a second study, higher adherence to a Mediterranean diet was associated with slower cognitive decline, but was not associated with a decreased risk of dementia.

Research regarding the effect physical activity can have on the risk of Alzheimer disease (AD) or dementia has shown mixed results, as has the effect of dietary habits. Their combined association has not been investigated, according to background information in the article.

Nikolaos Scarmeas, M.D., of Columbia University Medical Center, New York, and colleagues examined the association between physical activity and risk of AD and also the effect of physical activity and adherence to a Mediterranean-type diet on AD risk. The study included 2 groups that consisted of 1,880 community-dwelling elderly residents of New York city without dementia at the start of the study, for whom there was both diet and physical activity information available. Standardized neurological and neuropsychological measures were administered approximately every 1.5 years from 1992 through 2006.

Smarter and better educated people have a lower incidence of Alzheimer's. I always wonder about diet studies and Alzheimer's risk reduction since smart people are more likely to eat fish, vegetables, and fruits and otherwise eat a diet that matches up with best practice. So what's the direction of cause and effect? I suspect most of the difference is due to diet and exercise since we have plenty of other indicators that diet makes a difference in cardiovascular health and brain health.

The risk reduction found is substantial.

The authors also write, "Compared with individuals with low physical activity plus low adherence to a diet (absolute AD risk, 19 percent), high physical activity plus high diet adherence was associated with a 35 percent to 44 percent relative risk reduction (absolute AD risk, 12 percent). … Absolute AD risks declined from 21 percent in the group with no physical activity plus low diet adherence to 9 percent in the group with much physical activity plus high diet adherence."

I'd like to know whether meat is associated with a worse outcome because of properties of meat or because meat displaces fish in diet. Is it bad stuff in meat or good stuff in fish that makes the difference?

By Randall Parker    2009 August 13 12:21 AM   Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2009 August 04 Tuesday
Even Moderate Cholesterol Elevation Boosts Dementia

For the sake fo your brain get your cholesterol down below 200.

Elevated cholesterol levels in midlife – even levels considered only borderline elevated – significantly increase the risk of Alzheimer's disease and vascular dementia later in life, according to a new study by researchers at Kaiser Permanente's Division of Research and the University of Kuopio in Finland. The study appears in the journal Dementia & Geriatric Cognitive Disorders.

The four-decade study of 9,844 men and women found that having high cholesterol in midlife (240 or higher milligrams per deciliter of blood) increases, by 66 percent, the risk for Alzheimer's disease later in life. Even borderline cholesterol levels (200 – 239 mg/dL) in midlife raised risk for late-life vascular dementia by nearly the same amount: 52 percent. Vascular dementia, the second most common form of dementia after Alzheimer's disease, is a group of dementia syndromes caused by conditions affecting the blood supply to the brain. Scientists are still trying to pinpoint the genetic factors and lifestyle causes for Alzheimer's disease.

The study is the biggest to date to look at this question.

By measuring cholesterol levels in 1964 to 1973 based on the 2002 Adult Treatment Panel III guidelines (the current practice standard) when the Kaiser Permanente Northern California members were 40 to 45 years old, then following the participants for 40 years, this study is the largest long-term study with the most diverse population to examine the midlife cholesterol levels and late-life dementia. It is also the first study to look at borderline high cholesterol levels and vascular dementia, rather than just Alzheimer's disease.

To get your cholesterol lower eat lots of low carbo plant matter. Make like an ape man.

If you can't get your cholesterol low enough with diet and exercise then consider statins.

By Randall Parker    2009 August 04 10:59 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (3)
2009 July 14 Tuesday
Heart Healthy DASH Diet Cuts Alzheimers Risk

What's good for your heart is good for your brain too.

The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet is often recommended by physicians to people with high blood pressure or pre-hypertension. The DASH diet eating plan has been proven to lower blood pressure in studies sponsored by the National Institutes of Health. High blood pressure is considered a risk factor for Alzheimer's and dementia.

Heidi Wengreen, RD, PhD, Assistant Professor of Nutrition at Utah State University, and colleagues examined associations between how closely people adhered to the DASH diet and risk of cognitive decline and dementia among older participants in the Cache County Study on Memory, Health and Aging.

In 1995, 3,831 study participants 65 years of age or older completed a survey that included a food frequency questionnaire and cognitive assessment. Cognitive function was checked again during four assessments over 11 years using the Modified Mini-Mental State examination (3MS), which is graded on a 100 point scale. A DASH diet adherence score was created based on consumption levels of nine food-group/nutrient components -- fruit, vegetables, nut/legumes, whole grains, low-fat dairy, sodium, sweets, non-fish meat, and fish. Participants were ranked by DASH score into five groups, or quintiles.

The researchers found that higher DASH scores were associated with higher scores for cognitive functioning at the beginning of the study and over time. Those in the highest quintile scored 1.42 points higher at baseline and 1.81 points higher after 11 years on the 3MS than did those in the lowest quintile of the DASH score (p-values < 0.001).

Of course this could result from smarter people choosing to eat a healthier diet. They start out smarter and they continue to be smarter. But a poor cardiovascular system is going to mess up your brain. Other research finds that reduced blood flow precedes Alzheimer's.

Eat your vegetables.

They also found that four of the nine food-group/nutrient components used to create the DASH score were independently associated with 3MS scores -- vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, nut/legumes. The scientists created a diet adherence score based on just these four components which they then tested for association with changes in cognitive abilities on the 3MS. Those in the highest quintile scored 1.72 points higher at baseline and 3.73 points higher after 11 years than did those in the lowest quintile of the four-component score (p-values < 0.001).

Previous research finds that vegetable and fruit juice consumption are correlated with a large reduction in Alzheimer's risk. Yet another study found the Mediterranean Diet is associated with lowered Alzheimer's risk.

Eat fruit, nuts, vegetables, beans. Cut back on meats. Doing this delivers many benefits. A delay in brain decay is likely one of them.

By Randall Parker    2009 July 14 11:05 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (3)
Moderate Alcohol Intake Cuts Dementia Risk?

Teetotalers are running a greater risk of dementia?

"As of yet, we still have no cure for Alzheimer's disease and other dementias, so it is important to look for things that might help people prevent the disease," said Kaycee Sink, M.D., M.A.S (Masters of Advanced Studies in clinical research), a geriatrician and senior author of the paper. Moderate alcohol intake has been linked to lower risk of heart attacks, stroke, dementia, and death in middle-aged adults, but there is still controversy about alcohol intake in older adults."

For the study, researchers began by examining and interviewing 3,069 individuals, 75 years or older and most without any memory or thinking problems, about their drinking habits. Participants were asked about beer, wine, and liquor. The investigators then categorized the individuals as abstainers (non-drinkers), light drinkers (one to seven drinks per week), moderate drinkers (eight to 14 drinks per week), or heavy drinkers (more than 14 drinks per week). All types of alcohol were included.

The study subjects were then examined and interviewed every six months for six years to determine changes in their memory or thinking abilities and to monitor who developed dementia.

Researchers found that individuals who had no cognitive impairment at the start of the study and drank eight to 14 alcoholic beverages per week, or one to two per day, experienced an average 37 percent reduction in risk of developing dementia compared to individuals who did not drink at all and were classified as abstainers. The type of alcohol consumed did not matter.

Drink your wine with some fish to ensure a risk reduction. Then add vegetables and fruits spiced with turmeric for the curcumin which also appears to cut Alzheimer's risk.

By Randall Parker    2009 July 14 12:00 AM   Entry Permalink | Comments (6)
2009 July 12 Sunday
Omega 3 Fatty Acids No Help To Alzheimer's Patients

Omega 3 fatty acids might help before Alzheimer's but not once the disease is diagnosed. (Update: to be more precise: Once diagnosed omega 3's might slow the rate of decline if you have the right version of the ApoE - but you're still going down)

Vienna, July 12, 2009 – Results from two large studies using DHA, an omega 3 fatty acid, were reported today at the Alzheimer's Association 2009 International Conference on Alzheimer's Disease (ICAD 2009) in Vienna.

One of the trials was conducted by the Alzheimer's Disease Cooperative Study (ADCS) supported by the National Institute on Aging (NIA), and the second by Martek Biosciences Corporation (Martek), the primary company that makes algal DHA for supplementation. The NIA trial lasted 18 months and was conducted in people with mild to moderate Alzheimer's. Martek's trial was six months, and the compound was tested in healthy people to see its effect on "age related cognitive decline" (ARCD). Both studies used Martek's algal DHA.

The results of the ADCS trial show no evidence for benefit in the studied population. The Martek trial showed a positive result on one test of memory and learning, but that study was in healthy older adults, not people with Alzheimer's or another dementia. The results need confirmation, as is standard scientific practice.

Getting more omega 3 fatty acids might slow down brain aging. There is also previous research in mice that suggests omega 3's delay onset of Alzheimer's and it might do this by cutting inflammation. But once your brain has accumulated so much damage that Alzheimer's symptoms are easily discernable it is not surprising that it is too late for nutrients to make a difference. Nutrients probably work by cutting the rate of damage accumulation. Brain changes are detectable years before AD diagnosis. The damage has already been done. You might have poor vascularization starving your brain. You might have a lot of accumulated DNA damage.

What should you do? The key is to adopt healthy diet and lifestyle decades before you might get AD. Boring old fruits and vegetables appear to reduce disease risk just like for many other diseases of old age. The cholesterol lowering drug simvastatin appears to cut Alzheimer's risk too.

By Randall Parker    2009 July 12 01:39 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (9)
2009 July 05 Sunday
Coffee Could Reverse Alzheimer's Disease?

5 cups a day to keep you from losing your mind? "Coffee and tea, java and me, a cup a cup a cup a cup a cup". (maybe whoever wrote that song knew something - note the repetition 5 times!)

Tampa, FL (July 5, 2009) – Coffee drinkers may have another reason to pour that extra cup. When aged mice bred to develop symptoms of Alzheimer's disease were given caffeine – the equivalent of five cups of coffee a day – their memory impairment was reversed, report University of South Florida researchers at the Florida Alzheimer's Disease Research Center.

Back-to-back studies published online today in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, show caffeine significantly decreased abnormal levels of the protein linked to Alzheimer's disease, both in the brains and in the blood of mice exhibiting symptoms of the disease. Both studies build upon previous research by the Florida ADRC group showing that caffeine in early adulthood prevented the onset of memory problems in mice bred to develop Alzheimer's symptoms in old age.

"The new findings provide evidence that caffeine could be a viable 'treatment' for established Alzheimer's disease, and not simply a protective strategy," said lead author Gary Arendash, PhD, a USF neuroscientist with the Florida ADRC. "That's important because caffeine is a safe drug for most people, it easily enters the brain, and it appears to directly affect the disease process."

This makes me hear music:

By Randall Parker    2009 July 05 11:48 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (7)
2009 May 29 Friday
Evidence For Vitamin D As Alzheimer's Risk Reducer

A scientist argues for prospective studies in the ability of vitamin D to cut the risk of Alzheimer's Disease.

Amsterdam, The Netherlands, May 26, 2009 – There are several risk factors for the development of Alzheimer's disease and vascular dementia. Based on an increasing number of studies linking these risk factors with Vitamin D deficiency, an article in the current issue of the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease (May 2009) by William B. Grant, PhD of the Sunlight, Nutrition, and Health Research Center (SUNARC) suggests that further investigation of possible direct or indirect linkages between Vitamin D and these dementias is needed.

Low serum levels of 25-hydroxyvitamin D [25(OH)D] have been associated with increased risk for cardiovascular diseases, diabetes mellitus, depression, dental caries, osteoporosis, and periodontal disease, all of which are either considered risk factors for dementia or have preceded incidence of dementia. In 2008, a number of studies reported that those with higher serum 25(OH)D levels had greatly reduced risk of incidence or death from cardiovascular diseases.

Several studies have correlated tooth loss with development of cognitive impairment and Alzheimer's disease or vascular dementia. There are two primary ways that people lose teeth: dental caries and periodontal disease. Both conditions are linked to low vitamin D levels, with induction of human cathelicidin by 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D being the mechanism.

There is also laboratory evidence for the role of vitamin D in neuroprotection and reducing inflammation, and ample biological evidence to suggest an important role for vitamin D in brain development and function.

This could be done with either blood tests of vitamin D levels or vitamin D supplementation.

Given these supportive lines of evidence, Dr. Grant suggests that studies of incidence of dementia with respect to prediagnostic serum 25(OH)D or vitamin D supplementation are warranted.

The advantage of vitamin D supplementation over blood tests is that high blood vitamin D might be a marker for other things that reduce risk of Alzheimer's. For example, a person with a more slowly aging brain might get outside more often, get more sunlight on their skin, and therefore have more vitamin D in their blood. Or diseases could lower blood vitamin D and also increase risk of Alzheimer's at the same time.

The problem with prospective studies is that they cost a lot and take a long time. You really do not want to find out 10 or 15 or 20 years from now that vitamin D is protective since damage that leads up to an Alzheimer's diagnosis probably begins many years earlier. People in middle age and later need to cut their disease risks starting now. Since I do not want to wait for the evidence to become definitive I'm already taking vitamin D.

By Randall Parker    2009 May 29 11:41 AM   Entry Permalink | Comments (6)
2009 May 20 Wednesday
Vitamin D Improves Brain Function In Old Folks?

Vitamin D for the aging brain.

Eating fish – long considered ‘brain food’ – may really be good for the old grey matter, as is a healthy dose of sunshine, new research suggests.

University of Manchester scientists in collaboration with colleagues from other European centres have shown that higher levels of vitamin D – primarily synthesised in the skin following sun exposure but also found in certain foods such as oily fish – are associated with improved cognitive function in middle-aged and older men.

The study, published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry, compared the cognitive performance of more than 3,000 men aged 40 to 79 years at eight test centres across Europe.

The researchers found that men with higher levels of vitamin D performed consistently better in a simple and sensitive neuropsychological test that assesses an individual’s attention and speed of information processing.

This isn'r proof of cause and effect. But you already have compelling reasons to get enough vitamin D and these results suggest you might get an additional benefit if you ensure you get enough vitamin D.

By Randall Parker    2009 May 20 11:22 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (4)
2009 March 09 Monday
Diabetes And Cholesterol Speed Alzheimer's Disease?

It is all the usual suspects once again. If your genes, lifestyle, and diet combine to give you diabetes and/or high LDL cholesterol then if you get Alzheimer's you'll go down more quickly.

NEW YORK – A history of diabetes and elevated levels of cholesterol, especially LDL cholesterol, are associated with faster cognitive decline in patients with Alzheimer’s disease, according to a new study from Columbia University Medical Center researchers. These results add further evidence of the role of vascular risk factors in the onset and progression of Alzheimer’s disease.

The study will be published in the March 2009 issue of Archives of Neurology. This special issue, titled, Archives of Neurology: Neurological Disorders Related to Obesity, Diabetes Mellitus, the Metabolic Syndrome, and Other Comorbidities, is part of a special JAMA/Archives focus on diabetes and metabolic disorders.

“These findings indicate that controlling vascular conditions may be one way to delay the course of Alzheimer’s, which would be a major development in the treatment of this devastating disease as currently there are few treatments available to slow its progression,” said Yaakov Stern, Ph.D., a professor at the Taub Institute for the Research on Alzheimer’s Disease and the Aging Brain and director of the Cognitive Neuroscience Division of the Gertrude H. Sergievsky Center at Columbia University Medical Center, and senior author of the paper.

These risk factors probably up your odds of getting Alzheimer's in the first place. So eat a high vegetable, high fruit, low glycemic index, high unrefined food diet. Eat less red meat. Eat less sugar. You know the drill.

By Randall Parker    2009 March 09 11:09 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2009 February 09 Monday
Mediterranean Diet Reduces Cognitive Impairment With Age

Still not ready to shift to the Mediterranean diet of low dairy products, low red meat, and low saturated fats? Not ready to eat more fish, fruit, vegetables, nuts, beans, and whole grains? You can cut your risk of cognitive impairment and Alzheimer's disease by eating the Mediterranean diet.

Nikolaos Scarmeas, M.D., and colleagues at Columbia University Medical Center, New York, calculated a score for adherence to the Mediterranean diet among 1,393 individuals with no cognitive problems and 482 patients with mild cognitive impairment. Participants were originally examined, interviewed, screened for cognitive impairments and asked to complete a food frequency questionnaire between 1992 and 1999.

Over an average of 4.5 years of follow-up, 275 of the 1,393 who did not have mild cognitive impairment developed the condition. Compared with the one-third who had the lowest scores for Mediterranean diet adherence, the one-third with the highest scores for Mediterranean diet adherence had a 28 percent lower risk of developing mild cognitive impairment and the one-third in the middle group for Mediterranean diet adherence had a 17 percent lower risk.

Among the 482 with mild cognitive impairment at the beginning of the study, 106 developed Alzheimer's disease over an average 4.3 years of follow-up. Adhering to the Mediterranean diet also was associated with a lower risk for this transition. The one-third of participants with the highest scores for Mediterranean diet adherence had 48 percent less risk and those in the middle one-third of Mediterranean diet adherence had 45 percent less risk than the one-third with the lowest scores.

The Mediterranean diet may improve cholesterol levels, blood sugar levels and blood vessel health overall, or reduce inflammation, all of which have been associated with mild cognitive impairment. Individual food components of the diet also may have an influence on cognitive risk. "For example, potentially beneficial effects for mild cognitive impairment or mild cognitive impairment conversion to Alzheimer's disease have been reported for alcohol, fish, polyunsaturated fatty acids (also for age-related cognitive decline) and lower levels of saturated fatty acids," they write.

My advice: wade gradually into the diet. The key isn't eating less of bad foods as much as getting better foods onto your plate. Focus on cooking more with beans, eating raw vegetables as snacks, and other moves to put better foods into your mouth. The better foods will displace the lousier foods if you reach for the better foods first. Here is the original paper.

By Randall Parker    2009 February 09 11:36 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (5)
2009 January 23 Friday
Link Between Cognitive Impairment In Elderly And Vitamin D

Elderly people with cognitive impairment have less vitamin D in their bodies than the non-cognitively impaired.

Researchers from the Peninsula Medical School, the University of Cambridge and the University of Michigan, have for the first time identified a relationship between Vitamin D, the "sunshine vitamin", and cognitive impairment in a large-scale study of older people. The importance of these findings lies in the connection between cognitive function and dementia: people who have impaired cognitive function are more likely to develop dementia. The paper will appear in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Geriatric Psychology and Neurology.

The study was based on data on almost 2000 adults aged 65 and over who participated in the Health Survey for England in 2000 and whose levels of cognitive function were assessed. The study found that as levels of Vitamin D went down, levels of cognitive impairment went up. Compared to those with optimum levels of Vitamin D, those with the lowest levels were more than twice as likely to be cognitively impaired.

Obviously this doesn't prove the direction of causation. It could be that cognitively impaired people get outside less in the summer to synthesize vitamin D in their skin in response to UV light. Or cognitively impaired people might eat worse diets.

Other researchers have found a link between low vitamin D and cognitive impairment. Also, a review notes that the brain is rich in vitamin D receptors. Also, some Emory University researchers found that people with Parkinson's Disease have lower blood vitamin D than people with Alzheimer's who, in turn, had lower blood vitamin D than people with neither disease.

By Randall Parker    2009 January 23 12:16 AM   Entry Permalink | Comments (3)
2008 November 01 Saturday
Animal Fats Risk For Alzheimer's Disease?

A high animal fat diet boosts Alzheimer's related proteins in rats.

Quebec City, October 28, 2008—A team of Université Laval researchers has shown that the main neurological markers for Alzheimer's disease are exacerbated in the brains of mice fed a diet rich in animal fat and poor in omega-3s. Details of the study—which suggests that diets typical of most industrialized countries promote the development of Alzheimer's—are outlined in the latest online edition of Neurobiology of Aging.

To demonstrate this, the team led by Frédéric Calon used a type of transgenic mice that produce two proteins found in the brains of Alzheimer patients—tau proteins, which prevent proper neuron functioning, and amyloid-beta, associated with the formation of senile plaques within the brains of afflicted patients.

The researchers fed transgenic and regular mice different diets for nine months, after which they compared the effects on the animals' brains.

The mice whose diet was poor in omega-3s and rich in fat (60% of consumed calories) showed amyloid-beta and tau protein concentrations respectively 8.7 and 1.5 times higher than the control group mice, whose food contained 7 times less fat. The high-fat diet also reduced drebrin protein levels in the brain, another characteristic of Alzheimer's disease.

I'd like to see this study repeated with other types of fats. Exactly which types of fats are okay? Monunsaturates and polyunsaturates of all types? Also, do all types of saturated fats boost tau and amyloid-beta proteins?

By Randall Parker    2008 November 01 10:54 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (5)
2008 October 13 Monday
Low Vitamin D Link With Parkinson's Disease

Hey, been too long since I told you all to try to get more vitamin D in your diet. Here's another reason: People with Parkinson's Disease have lower blood vitamin D.

A majority of Parkinson's disease patients had insufficient levels of vitamin D in a new study from Emory University School of Medicine.

The fraction of Parkinson's patients with vitamin D insufficiency, 55 percent, was significantly more than patients with Alzheimer's disease (41 percent) or healthy elderly people (36 percent).

The results are published in the October issue of Archives of Neurology.

The finding adds to evidence that low vitamin D is associated with Parkinson's, says first author Marian Evatt, MD, assistant professor of neurology at Emory.

Evatt is assistant director of the Movement Disorders Program at Wesley Woods Hospital. The senior author is endocrinologist Vin Tangpricha, MD, assistant professor of medicine at Emory and director of the Endocrine Clinical Research Unit.

Evatt says her team compared Parkinson's patients to Alzheimer's patients because they wanted to evaluate the possibility that neurodegenerative diseases in general lead to vitamin D insufficiency.

One could argue that Parkinson's sufferers are less likely to get outside than the normal healthy. But look at the difference as compared to Alzheimer's sufferers. Granted this result does not prove a direction for cause and effect. But it is suggestive.

The other thing noteworthy about this result is that even in the US Southeast, a warmer climate, 36% of the healthy elderly lack sufficient vitamin D.

She says her team saw their results as striking because their study group came from the Southeast, not a region with long gloomy winters, where vitamin D insufficiency is thought to be more of a problem.

In addition, the study found that the fraction of patients with the lowest levels of vitamin D, described as vitamin D deficiency, was higher (23 percent) in the Parkinson's group than the Alzheimer's group (16 percent) or the healthy group (10 percent).

By Randall Parker    2008 October 13 11:53 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (5)
2008 September 08 Monday
Low Vitamin B-12 Seems To Cause Faster Brain Shrinkage

Keep up your vitamin B-12 levels so that your brain doesn't shrink any faster than it has to. Oh, and we really need gene therapies, stem cell therapies, and some nanobot therapies to repair and rejuvenate aging brains so that they do not shrink at all.

Older people with lower than average vitamin B12 levels were more than six times more likely to experience brain shrinkage, researchers concluded.

The University of Oxford study, published in the journal Neurology, tested the 107 apparently healthy volunteers over a five-year period.

So now the question is whether supplements could slow brain shrinkage and keep us smarter longer. Aging of the digestive tract will prevent at least some elderly from absorbing enough B-12 however and for them periodic B-12 injections are needed.

Professor David Smith, who directs the Oxford Project to Investigate Memory and Ageing, said he now planned a trial of B vitamins in the elderly to see if taking them could slow brain shrinkage.

This makes eating fish a two-fer. You get B-12 plus omega 3 fatty acids. Both help the brain. Omega 3 fatty acids reduce occurrence of brain lesions.

Oh, and like so many things these days, there's a genetic angle. The FUT2 gene

Boston, MA - Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) and their collaborators at Tufts University and the National Cancer Institute (NCI) have identified a common genetic influence on B12 vitamin levels in the blood, suggesting a new way to approach the biological connections between an important biochemical variable and deficiency-related diseases.

"The news here is the discovery of a robust genetic predictor of vitamin B12 levels," said David Hunter, the Vincent L. Gregory Professor of Cancer Prevention and director of the Program in Molecular and Genetic Epidemiology at HSPH and senior author of the study. "This is an example of the way we're going to understand more about how levels of vitamins and other nutrients in the body are partially determined by genetic factors as well as by what we eat."

But the FUT2 gene only accounted for a small portion of the variation of blood plasma B12 levels. But that could be important.

In the study, the FUT2 genetic variant accounted for about three percent of the variation in B12 plasma levels, Hazra said.

6 or 7 years from now most of us will know our personal genetic profiles and we'll know which nutrients we need to make special efforts to get more or less of. Nutrigenomics is coming to the mainstream soon.

By Randall Parker    2008 September 08 08:17 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (3)
2008 August 04 Monday
Fish Reduce Aging Brain Lesions

Are you getting enough omega 3 fatty acids in your diet to protect your brain from cognitive decline?

ST. PAUL, Minn. – Eating tuna and other types of fish may help lower the risk of cognitive decline and stroke in healthy older adults, according to a study published in the August 5, 2008, issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

For the study, 3,660 people age 65 and older underwent brain scans to detect silent brain infarcts, or small lesions in the brain that can cause loss of thinking skills, stroke or dementia. Scans were performed again five years later on 2,313 of the participants. The people involved in the study were also given questionnaires about fish in their diets.

The study found that people who ate broiled or baked tuna and other fish high in omega-3 fatty acids (called DHA and EPA) three times or more per week had a nearly 26 percent lower risk of having the silent brain lesions that can cause dementia and stroke compared to people who did not eat fish regularly. Eating just one serving of this type of fish per week led to a 13 percent lower risk. The study also found people who regularly ate these types of fish had fewer changes in the white matter in their brains.


The only 26% reduction in lesions from eating fish is to be expected. With diet and lifestyle changes we can slow the rate of brain aging. But we can't stop it. To do better than that we need to develop stem cell therapies, gene therapies, and nanobots to do repairs.

"While eating tuna and other types of fish seems to help protect against memory loss and stroke, these results were not found in people who regularly ate fried fish," said Jyrki Virtanen, PhD, RD, with the University of Kuopio in Finland. "More research is needed as to why these types of fish may have protective effects, but the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA would seem to have a major role."

Types of fish that contain high levels of DHA and EPA nutrients include salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines, and anchovies.

"Previous findings have shown that fish and fish oil can help prevent stroke, but this is one of the only studies that looks at fish's effect on silent brain infarcts in healthy, older people," said Virtanen. Research shows that silent brain infarcts, which are only detected by brain scans, are found in about 20 percent of otherwise healthy elderly people.

By the time you reach 60 you will have a one in five chance of having brain microbleed microlesions. The longer you live the more these pockets of neuronal cell death will accumulate. We need to develop rejuvenating treatments that will prevent this accumulating brain damage. Adult stem cells to rejuvenate blood vessels would probably help.

By Randall Parker    2008 August 04 11:57 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (4)
2008 July 20 Sunday
High HDL Cholesterol Linked To Slower Brain Aging

Boost your HDL cholesterol to slow the decay of your brain. See below where I tell you what to do about it.

Low levels of high-density lipoproteins (HDL) — the "good" cholesterol — in middle age may increase the risk of memory loss and lead to dementia later in life, researchers reported in Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology: Journal of the American Heart Association.

Observing 3,673 participants (26.8 percent women) from the Whitehall II study, researchers found that falling levels of HDL cholesterol were predictors of declining memory by age 60. Whitehall II, which began in 1985, is long-term health examination of more than 10,000 British civil servants working in London.

"Memory problems are key in the diagnosis of dementia," said Archana Singh-Manoux, Ph.D., lead author of the study and Senior Research Fellow with the French National Institute for Health and Medical Research (INSERM, France) and the University College London in England. "We found that a low level of HDL may be a risk factor for memory loss in late midlife. This suggests that low HDL cholesterol might also be a risk factor for dementia."

Memory loss in your 50s and 60s is something to avoid.

Their main findings are:

  • At age 55, participants with low HDL cholesterol showed a 27 percent increased risk of memory loss when compared to those with high HDL.
  • At age 60, participants with low HDL had a 53 percent increased risk of memory loss compared to the high HDL group.
  • During the five years between phases 5 and 7, study members with decreasing HDL had a 61 percent increased risk of decline in their ability to remember words versus those with high HDL.
  • Men and women did not differ significantly in the link between lipids and memory loss, so researchers combined data from both sexes for analysis.
  • Total cholesterol and triglycerides did not show a link with memory decline.
  • Using statin drugs to raise HDL and/or lower low-density lipoprotein (LDL or "bad" cholesterol) showed no association with memory loss.

HDL cholesterol, which at high levels decreases the risk of heart attacks, serves several vital biological functions. It helps clear excess cholesterol from the blood; assists nerve-cell synapses to mature; and helps control the formation of beta-amyloid, the major component of the protein plaques found in the brains of Alzheimer's patients. Dementia most often occurs in people 65 years or older, the fastest growing age group in the industrialized world.

Brain aging is a huge cost on society and to us individually. Imagine that we did not cognitively decay at all in our 50s and 60s and even into our 70s. We'd stay more productive at work and therefore our economic output would be much higher and we'd earn more in the latter years of our working careers. We could work longer and work would be easier. We'd live better and we'd get more enjoyment out of life. We also would not become a huge burden on others.

Okay, so what to do about this information? In 2005 some Johns Hopkins cardiology experts reviewed the literature on what raises HDL cholesterol and here are their recommendations. Almost all these factors are already known as heart healthy lifestyle and diet practices.

To raise HDL cholesterol levels, the researchers recommend a regular exercise program of brisk aerobic exercise for 30 minutes, several times per week, if not every day.

Quitting smoking, they point out, provides an average increase in HDL levels of 4 milligrams per deciliter. Aids such as drug therapy, nicotine replacement products and counseling can help patients quit.

Weight control is also highlighted as critical to raising HDL levels, with the researchers noting that every kilogram of weight lost raises a patient's HDL levels by an average 0.35 milligrams per deciliter. A reasonable weight loss goal, they suggest, for overweight or obese patients is 1 pound, or 0.45 kilograms, per week, with a target body mass index of less than 25.

Mild to moderate consumption of alcohol, no more than one to two drinks per day, they say, has been shown beneficial in raising HDL levels by an average of 4 milligrams per deciliter, irrespective of type of alcohol consumed. But the researchers caution that the potential risks here may outweigh the benefits in people with liver or addiction problems.

For dietary control, the researchers recommend a diet low in saturated fat and rich in the polyunsaturated fatty acids found in foods such as oils (olive, canola, soy and flaxseed), nuts (almonds, peanuts, walnuts and pecans), and cold-water fish (salmon and mackerel), and shellfish. Consumption of carbohydrates, they say, should be restricted because high glycemic products, such as processed cereals and breads, are associated with lower HDL levels.

In the report, the researchers cite niacin, also called nicotinic acid or vitamin B3, as the most effective medication for raising HDL cholesterol, leading to increases of 20 percent to 35 percent. Fibrate therapy is also effective, they say, producing an average increase of 10 percent to 25 percent. Statins are the least effective of the three drug classes, used primarily to reduce LDL cholesterol, raising HDL levels by 2 percent to 15 percent. When used in combination, low-dose statins and high-dose niacin have been shown to produce benefits of 21 percent to 26 percent.

In April 2008 a group of researchers at Yonsei University in Seoul South Korea found that daily kale juice boosts HDL 27%.

OBJECTIVE: To evaluate the effect of 3-month kale (Brassica oleracea acephala) juice supplementation on coronary artery disease risk factors among hypercholesterolemic men. METHODS: Thirty-two men with hypercholesterolemia (> 200 mg/dL) were recruited after annual health examinations among the faculty and staff at university. The subjects consumed 150 mL of kale juice per day for a 12-week intervention period. Dietary and anthropometric assessments were performed and blood samples were collected to evaluate biochemical profiles before and after supplementation. RESULTS: Serum concentrations of HDL-cholesterol, and HDL- to LDL-cholesterol ratio were significantly increased by 27% (P<0.0001) and 52% (P<0.0001), respectively.

I've read claims that a half onion per day might boost HDL. But I couldn't find good confirmation of this. Does anyone know about other foods with potent HDL-raising effects?

Fiber supplements raise HDL.

WASHINGTON, D.C., April 30 – Fiber supplements lower "bad" low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and increase "good" high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol in people with type 2 diabetes, according to a study presented at the American Heart Association's Sixth Annual Conference on Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology.

Pistachios probably help raise HDL too.

By Randall Parker    2008 July 20 07:23 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (2)
2008 May 07 Wednesday
Obesity Boosts Dementia Risk

Being too skinny also poses a dementia risk?

Being obese can increase the risk of Alzheimer’s Disease by as much as 80 per cent, according to a study in the May issue of Obesity Reviews.

It is harder to tease out harmful effects of low weight as compared to overweight because people who have undiagnosed diseases often lose weight before getting diagnosed. So the population of skinny people include people who are about to get diagnosed with cancer or some other disease. The longer a group gets followed the less that bias influences the results.

But it’s not just weight gain that poses a risk. People who are underweight also have an elevated risk of dementia, unlike people who are normal weight or overweight.

US researchers carried out a detailed review of 10 international studies published since 1995, covering just over 37,000 people, including 2,534 with various forms of dementia. Subjects were aged between 40 and 80 years when the studies started, with follow-up periods ranging from three to 36 years.

The review, which included studies from the USA, France, Finland, Sweden and Japan, also included a sophisticated meta-analysis of seven of the studies, published between 2003 and 2007 with a follow-up period of at least five years.

All kinds of dementia were included, with specific reference to Alzheimer’s Disease and to vascular dementia – where areas of the brain stop functioning because the blood vessels that supply them are damaged by conditions such as high blood pressure or heart disease.

“Our meta-analysis showed that obesity increased the relative risk of dementia, for both sexes, by an average of 42 per cent when compared with normal weight” says Dr Youfa Wang, Associate Professor of International Health and Epidemiology at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore.

“And being underweight increased the risk by 36 per cent.

“But when we looked specifically at Alzheimer’s Disease, the increased risk posed by obesity was 80 per cent. The increased risk for people with vascular dementia was 73 per cent.

The harmful effects of obesity suggest that bariatric surgery ought to be considered by the chronically obese. Here's another reason: bariatric surgery might cure type 2 insulin resistant diabetes.

By Randall Parker    2008 May 07 11:19 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (3)
2008 March 26 Wednesday
Belly Fat Big Boost To Dementia Risk

A beer belly rots your brain even though the beer might not be at fault.

ST. PAUL, Minn. – People with larger stomachs in their 40s are more likely to have dementia when they reach their 70s, according to a study published in the March 26, 2008, online issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

The study involved 6,583 people age 40 to 45 in northern California who had their abdominal fat measured. An average of 36 years later, 16 percent of the participants had been diagnosed with dementia. The study found that those with the highest amount of abdominal fat were nearly three times more likely to develop dementia than those with the lowest amount of abdominal fat.

So then would belly liposuction reduce your risk of Alzheimer's Disease?

A lot of people are walking around (or sitting) with hazardous bellies.

“Considering that 50 percent of adults in this country have an unhealthy amount of abdominal fat, this is a disturbing finding,” said study author Rachel A. Whitmer, PhD, a Research Scientist of the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research in Oakland, CA, and member of the American Academy of Neurology. “Research needs to be done to determine what the mechanisms are that link abdominal obesity and dementia.”

Having a large abdomen increased the risk of dementia regardless of whether the participants were of normal weight overall, overweight, or obese, and regardless of existing health conditions, including diabetes, stroke and cardiovascular disease.

Those who were overweight and had a large belly were 2.3 times more likely to develop dementia than people with a normal weight and belly size. People who were both obese and had a large belly were 3.6 times more likely to develop dementia than those of normal weight and belly size. Those who were overweight or obese but did not have a large abdomen had an 80-percent increased risk of dementia.

This study didn't prove the direction of causation. But the results are highly suggestive.

Yet Seshadri also notes that factors other than fat could be responsible for the results. Whitmer's team controlled for some of these, such as education and rates of other illnesses. But other issues were not taken into account. Overweight people are less likely to exercise, for instance. Physical activity is known to decrease obesity risk, as well as being psychologically beneficial.

Whitmer acknowledges this short-coming, but points out that the dementia rates were greater among those who were not overweight during middle-age, but did have high levels of belly fat. These people are likely to have exercised since their weight was normal, she says, but they still went on to develop cognitive problems.

Pay attention to comments from obesity researcher Rudolph Liebel of Columbia University in this previous post. Note that fat cells are now known to secrete at least a couple of dozen hormones and other signalling compounds. Some of those compounds cross the blood-brain barrier. Fat is not a passive pile of blubber. Belly fat in particular secretes more stuff than other areas of fat. The fat on your belly is sending out messages that are messing up your brain and body.

By Randall Parker    2008 March 26 06:44 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (4)
2008 January 29 Tuesday
Higher Lead Exposure Linked To Faster Brain Aging

If you got a lot of exposure to car exhaust before lead was banned from gasoline then it might make your brain age faster.

The new work suggests long-ago lead exposure can make an aging person's brain work as if it's five years older than it really is. If that's verified by more research, it means that sharp cuts in environmental lead levels more than 20 years ago didn't stop its widespread effects.

"We're trying to offer a caution that a portion of what has been called normal aging might in fact be due to ubiquitous environmental exposures like lead," says Dr. Brian Schwartz of Johns Hopkins University.

A longitudinal study found that those with higher bone lead levels seemed to age more rapidly.

Hu and his colleagues took a slightly different approach in a 2004 study of 466 men with an average age of 67. Those men took a mental-ability test twice, about four years apart on average. Those with the highest bone lead levels showed more decline between exams than those with smaller levels, with the effect of the lead equal to about five years of aging.

Nobody is claiming that lead is the sole cause of age-related mental decline, but it appears to be one of several factors involved, Hu stressed.

Cumulative lead exposure seems to reduce cognitive function.

In a study of almost 1,000 persons 50–70 years of age randomly selected from the general population in the Baltimore Memory Study (BMS), a cross-sectional analysis showed that relatively low current blood lead levels were not associated with cognitive domain scores. However, moderate tibia lead levels (mean ~ 19 µg/g) were significantly associated with worse performance in all seven cognitive domains (Shih et al. 2006). Thus, in the environmental studies of older adults, the most consistent findings across studies are associations between bone lead levels and cognitive function. The associations in the BMS were cross-sectional, whereas the predominant associations in the NAS were with change in cognitive function over time, although a significant cross-sectional association with MMSE score was also observed in this sample. Taken together, these data suggest that at environmental exposure levels, the effects of cumulative exposure are more pronounced than recent effects of current exposure. The absence of associations in the Stokes et al. (1998) study could be because of the younger age of studied subjects, the very low current blood and tibia lead levels, or the inadequacy of tibia lead in the third decade of life to estimate early life dose (Hoppin et al. 2000).

So what to do about your accumulated bone lead? One possible long term response might be thiamine (or thiamin - vitamin B1) supplementation. Thamine enhances lead excretion in rodents and also in sheep and other animals.

By Randall Parker    2008 January 29 08:50 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2007 December 26 Wednesday
Evidence For Omega 3 Fatty Acid Against Alzheimer's Disease

More evidence that fish oils really are good for you.

Many Alzheimer's researchers have long touted fish oil, by pill or diet, as an accessible and inexpensive "weapon" that may delay or prevent this debilitating disease. Now, UCLA scientists have confirmed that fish oil is indeed a deterrent against Alzheimer's, and they have identified the reasons why.

Reporting in the current issue of the Journal of Neuroscience, now online, Greg Cole, professor of medicine and neurology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and associate director of UCLA's Alzheimer Disease Research Center, and his colleagues report that the omega-3 fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) found in fish oil increases the production of LR11, a protein that is found at reduced levels in Alzheimer's patients and which is known to destroy the protein that forms the "plaques" associated with the disease.

The plaques are deposits of a protein called beta amyloid that is thought to be toxic to neurons in the brain, leading to Alzheimer's. Since having high levels of LR11 prevents the toxic plaques from being made, low levels in patients are believed to be a factor in causing the disease.

I ate a large piece of Salmon on Christmas Day and now I feel even better about it.

DHA also boosted LR11 in human cells grown in culture.

"We found that even low doses of DHA increased the levels of LR11 in rat neurons, while dietary DHA increased LR11 in brains of rats or older mice that had been genetically altered to develop Alzheimer's disease," said Cole, who is also associate director of the Geriatric Research Center at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

To show that the benefits of DHA were not limited to nonhuman animal cells, the researchers also confirmed a direct impact of DHA on human neuronal cells in culture as well. Thus, high levels of DHA leading to abundant LR11 seem to protect against Alzheimer's, Cole said, while low LR11 levels lead to formation of the amyloid plaques.

Since the oceans don't have enough fish in them we really need land crops genetically engineered to have high levels of omega 3 fatty acids.

Not convinced yet? See my previous posts Omega 3 Fatty Acids In Fish Delay Alzheimer's In Mice, Fish In Diet Slows Rate Of Cognitive Decline, Omega 3 Fatty Acids Might Slow Alzheimers Disease, and Omega 3 Fatty Acids Protect Against Parkinsons Disease? for more on brain aging benefits of omega 3 fatty acids.

We need to slow the aging of our brains for the day when brain rejuvenation therapies become available. The more neurons we have left at that point the more that can be repaired and restored.

By Randall Parker    2007 December 26 09:38 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (10)
2007 November 26 Monday
Omega 3 Fatty Acids Protect Against Parkinsons Disease?

Here is yet another reason to eat more salmon.

Quebec City, November 26, 2007—Omega-3 fatty acids protect the brain against Parkinson’s disease, according to a study by Université Laval researchers published in the online edition of the FASEB Journal, the journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology. This study, supervised by Frederic Calon and Francesca Cicchetti, is the first to demonstrate the protective effect of a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids against Parkinson’s.

Parkinson’s disease is caused by the progressive death of the neurons responsible for producing dopamine, a neurotransmitter closely linked with movement control. The disease is usually diagnosed when 50 to 80% of these neurons are already dead, and there is currently no medication to stop that process.

The Université Laval research team’s findings could help prevent the disease and, potentially, slow down its progression.

The researchers observed that when mice were fed an omega-3 rich diet, they seemed immune to the effect of MPTP, a toxic compound that causes the same damage to the brain as Parkinson’s. “This compound, which has been used for more than 20 years in Parkinson’s research, works faster than the disease itself and is just as effective in targeting and destroying the dopamine-producing neurons in the brain,” points out Calon.

By contrast, another group of mice that were fed an ordinary diet developed the characteristic symptoms of the disease when injected with MPTP, including a 31% drop in dopamine-producing neurons and a 50% decrease in dopamine levels.

Analyses revealed that omega-3 fatty acids—in particular DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), a specific type of omega-3—had replaced the omega-6 fatty acids already present in the brains of the mice that had been given omega-3 supplementation.

I eat salmon 5 times a week. Most other omega 3 fatty acid sources are inferior in comparison. Though mackerel, sardines, and herring have high omega 3 concentrations close to salmon. But if you are worried about mercury then avoid mackerel since it has very high mercury concentrations.

A combination of omega 3 fatty acid DHA, choline, and uridine boosted synapse regeneration in rodents.

MIT researchers have shown that a cocktail containing three compounds normally in the blood stream promotes growth of new brain connections and improves cognitive function in rodents. The treatment is now being tested in Alzheimer's patients and could hold promise for other brain diseases and injuries.

The mixture, which includes a type of omega-3 fatty acid, is part of a new approach to attacking Alzheimer's. That approach focuses on correcting the loss of synapses, or connections between neurons, which characterizes the disease.

Each of the components of the mixture boosted synapse growth. But the combination of the 3 substances produced the biggest increase.

In the Brain Research paper, the MIT team reported that rodents given a cocktail of DHA (a type of omega-3 fatty acid), uridine and choline showed a greatly increased concentration of dendritic spines, which receive messages in the postsynaptic neuron. That indicates that synapse regeneration has occurred, which is unusual, Wurtman said.

Synapse regrowth could also prove an effective treatment for other brain diseases, such as Parkinson's, or for brain injuries, he said.

Salmon and eggs might deliver a double punch for increased brain performance.

Omega-3 fatty acids are not produced in the body but are found in a variety of sources, including fish, eggs, flaxseed and meat from grass-fed animals. Choline can be synthesized in the body and obtained through the diet; it is found in meats, nuts and eggs. Uridine cannot be obtained from food sources, but is a component of human breast milk and can be produced in the body.

Nuts and eggs and salmon. That's the ticket.

By Randall Parker    2007 November 26 11:48 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (11)
2007 November 14 Wednesday
Fish, Fruits, Vegetables Slow Brain Aging

Of course fish, fruits, and vegetables slow brain aging. You already know that. But the purpose of my posting the studies on diet and aging is to remind you that, yes, the bad foods really are bad for you and the good foods really are good for you. There's a big difference between an ideal diet and a typical diet. An ideal diet delivers benefits in many forms. When you eat wisely you aren't just reducing your risk of cancer and heart disease. Fish, fruit, and vegetables really are good for your brain.

ST. PAUL, Minn. – A diet rich in fish, omega-3 oils, fruits and vegetables may lower your risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, whereas consuming omega-6 rich oils could increase chances of developing memory problems, according to a study published in the November 13, 2007, issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

Do you need to know the statistical details in order to improve your diet? If not, go on to the next story. If you really need to know then keep reading. Or if you are already eating a wise scientifically informed diet then read on so you that can feel really good about yourself and your health choices.

I so do not want to get Alzheimer's and forget who I am or where's the bathroom or which house I live in or whether I ate breakfast or who my friends are. Isn't that a really terrible way to go? Luckily, we can change our odds with better diet choices.

For the study, researchers examined the diets of 8,085 men and women over the age of 65 who did not have dementia at the beginning of the study. Over four years of follow-up, 183 of the participants developed Alzheimer’s disease and 98 developed another type of dementia.

The study found people who regularly consumed omega-3 rich oils, such as canola oil, flaxseed oil and walnut oil, reduced their risk of dementia by 60 percent compared to people who did not regularly consume such oils. People who ate fruits and vegetables daily also reduced their risk of dementia by 30 percent compared to those who didn’t regularly eat fruits and vegetables.

Vegetables aren't much fun unless someone with considerable culinary skills transforms them into something tasty. Still, I managed to eat half a head of cabbage today.

But if you have the ApoE4 genetic variant the story is not so good. Does any kind of food help those who have ApoE4?

The study also found people who ate fish at least once a week had a 35-percent lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease and 40-percent lower risk of dementia, but only if they did not carry the gene that increases the risk of Alzheimer’s, called apolipoprotein E4, or ApoE4.

“Given that most people do not carry the ApoE4 gene, these results could have considerable implications in terms of public health,” said study author Pascale Barberger-Gateau, PhD, of INSERM, the French National Institute for Health and Medical Research, in Bordeaux, France. “However, more research is needed to identify the optimal quantity and combination of nutrients which could be protective before implementing nutritional recommendations.”

In addition, the study found people who did not carry the ApoE4 gene and consumed an unbalanced diet characterized by regular use of omega-6 rich oils, but not omega-3 rich oils or fish were twice as likely to develop dementia compared to those who didn’t eat omega-6 rich oils, which include sunflower or grape seed oil. The study did not find any association between consuming corn oil, peanut oil, lard, meat or wine and lowering risk of dementia.

I find it curious that corn oil and peanut oil didn't appear to deliver a net harm. However, given that you are limited in how many calories you can consume corn and peanut oil really have a cost: They reduce the amount of healthier oils and healthier other foods you can eat.

Beta carotene, a nutrient found in many vegetables and fruits, seems to slow down cognitive decline if taken for 15 years or longer.

Men who take beta carotene supplements for 15 years or longer may have less cognitive decline, according to a report in the November 12 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.

Decreases in cognitive ability—thinking, learning and memory skills—strongly predict dementia, a growing public health issue, according to background information in the article. Long-term cellular damage from “oxidative stress” may be a major factor in cognitive decline. Some evidence suggests that antioxidant supplements may help preserve cognition, although previous studies have been inconclusive, the authors note.

Francine Grodstein, Sc.D., of Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) and Harvard Medical School, Boston, and colleagues studied the antioxidant beta carotene and its effect on cognitive ability in two groups of men. The long-term group included 4,052 men who in 1982 had been randomly assigned to take placebo or 50 milligrams of beta carotene every other day. Between 1998 and 2001, an additional 1,904 men were randomly assigned to one of the two groups. Both groups were followed through 2003, completing yearly follow-up questionnaires with information about their health and their compliance with taking the pills. The men were assessed by telephone for cognitive function at least once between 1998 and 2002.

Rather than take beta carotene you are better off eating the fruits and vegetables that contain the beta carotene and other antioxidants.

By Randall Parker    2007 November 14 07:39 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (6)
2007 September 30 Sunday
Mediterranean Diet Appears To Lengthen Survival Of Alzheimer's Patients

People with Alzheimer's Disease who ate a Mediterranean diet (more monounsaturated fats, more fruits and vegetables, beans, whole grains, less meat and dairy) lived 4 years long than those not on a the Mediterranean diet.

Scarmeas' group found that patients whose consumption habits most closely tracked that of the Mediterranean diet were 76 percent less likely to die in the study period than those whose food intake least mimicked the diet.

Compared with those whose diets most closely resembled a Western diet, Alzheimer's patients who most closely followed the Mediterranean diet lived an average of four years longer.

A more moderate degree of adherence to the Mediterranean diet still translated into extra 1.3 years of survival, the researchers said. That's equal to a 29 percent to 35 percent reduced risk for dying during the study period.

The same Columbia University Medical Center team led by Nikolaos Scarmeas previously reported that the Mediterranean diet appears to lower the risk of getting Alzheimer's in the first place.

Compared to the third of people who scored worst on the Mediterranean diet scores, those in the mid-ranking group had a 15% to 21% lower risk of developing Alzheimer's disease, and those with the highest score had a 39% to 40% lower risk.

Also see this abstract of some of their previous work on this topic.

The Mediterranean diet is a more doable kind of diet than a lot of others. It doesn't eliminate fats. It just shifts which ones you eat. Ditto for carbs. A lot of people can eat a Mediterranean diet without feeling heavily deprived. But you have to commit to doing it. Cook the beans, buy the nuts and seeds. Switch from polyunsaturated oils to monounsaturates like olive oil and canola. Also, cut back on meat and dairy and eat more fish.

Periodically I try to find ways to improve my diet. It is already pretty good. But I just ordered a flax seed grinder. I'll let you all know how flax seed grinding works out.

Update: Reminder: Not excited about the notion of eating a better diet in order to slow the inevitable decay of old age? Feel like, hey, what's the point? The point is to live long enough to still have a functioning mind when rejuvenation therapies become available. Yes, the rejuvenation therapies are coming. They aren't distant science fiction prospects. We'll have at least some useful stem cell therapies in 10 years and many more in 20 years. We will have gene therapies and methods for growing replacement organs too. Hang in there and slow the decay. Eventually it'll be possible to reverse the decay.

By Randall Parker    2007 September 30 09:26 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2007 August 06 Monday
Caffeine Slows Brain Aging In Women?

A recurring FuturePundit theme: The toughest part of the body to rejuvenate is going to be the brain. Therefore anything that slows brain aging is especially valuable for those who want to survive until the reversal of aging becomes possible. With that thought in mind: Looks like a cup of coffee might slow your brain aging.

ST. PAUL, MN- Caffeine may help older women protect their thinking skills, according to a study published in the August 7, 2007, issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

The study found that women age 65 and older who drank more than three cups of coffee (or the equivalent in tea) per day had less decline over time on tests of memory than women who drank one cup or less of coffee or tea per day. The results held up even after researchers adjusted for other factors that could affect memory abilities, such as age, education, disability, depression, high blood pressure, medications, cardiovascular disease, and other chronic illnesses.

“Caffeine is a psychostimulant which appears to reduce cognitive decline in women,” said study author Karen Ritchie, PhD, of INSERM, the French National Institute for Health and Medical Research, in Montpellier, France. “While we have some ideas as to how this works biologically, we need to have a better understanding of how caffeine affects the brain before we can start promoting caffeine intake as a way to reduce cognitive decline. But the results are interesting – caffeine use is already widespread and it has fewer side effects than other treatments for cognitive decline, and it requires a relatively small amount for a beneficial effect.”

The study involved 7,000 people whose cognitive abilities and caffeine consumption were evaluated over four years. Compared to women who drank one cup or less of coffee per day, those who drank over three cups were less likely to show as much decline in memory. Moreover, the benefits increased with age – coffee drinkers being 30 percent less likely to have memory decline at age 65 and rising to 70 percent less likely over age 80.

Now, do I have to take up coffee drinking or watch my mental lights go out? I'd really like to know whether the caffeine or some other compound in the coffee delivers the protective benefit.

There are other ways to get the caffeine of course. For example, 3.5 ounces of dark chocolate has as much caffeine as 8 ounces of instant coffee. Yet another reason to eat chocolate. Black tea contains more than twice as much caffeine as green tea.

By Randall Parker    2007 August 06 11:38 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (5)
2007 June 05 Tuesday
Folic Acid Cuts Stroke Risk

Eat your beans and green leafy vegetables.

Folic acid supplementation can reduce the risk of stroke by 18% or more, conclude authors of an Article published in this week's edition of The Lancet.

But the authors and an accompanying comment caution that there remains controversy as to whether folic acid supplementation can lead to improved outcomes for other cardiovascular conditions.

Professor Xiaobin Wang, Children's Memorial Hospital and Children's Memorial Research Center, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago, USA, and colleagues did a meta-analysis (a study combining previous trials) of eight trials of folic acid that had stroke reported as one of the endpoints.

Folic acid supplementation lowers the concentrations homocysteine in the blood. High amounts of homocysteine in the blood are thought to increase the risk of stroke, as well as that of cardiovascular disease and deep vein thrombosis.

They found folic acid supplementation reduced the relative risk of stroke by an average of 18 per cent. In subgroup analyses, an even greater reduction of risk was seen when the treatment lasted over 36 months (29% less risk); if it reduced the concentration of homocysteine in the blood by more than 20% (23% less risk); or if the patient had no previous history of stroke (25% less risk).

The study also found that in areas that did not already have supplementation through fortified or partly fortified grain, folic acid supplementation decreased the risk of stroke by 25%.

Should blood tests for homocysteine levels become as commonplace as blood tests for cholesterol and lipids? Also, while I'm at it, should vitamin D blood tests also become commonplace?

Look ahead 20 years and I expect many people will walk around with implanted nanodevices that do in situ blood tests. People will get their blood tests and recommended dietary recommendations from their cell phones which will query their implanted nanodevices. Or maybe they'll have implanted headphones and the implants will tell us what we need? Or why not implant display devices on the optic nerves and just show the test results by stimulating a pattern on optic nerves to cause us to see test result data?

By Randall Parker    2007 June 05 12:01 AM   Entry Permalink | Comments (4)
2007 May 29 Tuesday
Epicatechin And Exercise As Memory Boosters?

Epicatechin and exercise boost memory in mice.

WASHINGTON, DC May 29, 2007 – A natural compound found in blueberries, tea, grapes, and cocoa enhances memory in mice, according to newly published research. This effect increased further when mice also exercised regularly.

"This finding is an important advance because it identifies a single natural chemical with memory-enhancing effects, suggesting that it may be possible to optimize brain function by combining exercise and dietary supplementation," says Mark Mattson, PhD, at the National Institute on Aging.

The compound, epicatechin, is one of a group of chemicals known as flavonols and has been shown previously to improve cardiovascular function in people and increase blood flow in the brain. Flavonols are found in some chocolate. Henriette van Praag, PhD, of the Salk Institute, and colleagues there and at Mars, Inc., showed that the combination of exercise and a diet with epicatechin also promoted structural and functional changes in the dentate gyrus, a part of the brain involved in the formation of learning and memory. The findings, published in the May 30 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience, suggest that a diet rich in flavonols may help reduce the incidence or severity of neurodegenerative disease or cognitive disorders related to aging.

You can also get epicatechin from fruits and tea. Anyone know a good table listing the epicatechin content of many foods?

By Randall Parker    2007 May 29 11:09 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2007 April 19 Thursday
Omega 3 Fatty Acids Might Slow Alzheimers Disease

A fatty acid found in fish slows tau protein accumulation in genetically modified mice.

Irvine, Calif. — A type of omega-3 fatty acid may slow the growth of two brain lesions that are hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease, UC Irvine scientists have discovered. The finding suggests that diets rich in docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) can help prevent the development of Alzheimer’s disease later in life.

This study with genetically modified mice is the first to show that DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid, can slow the accumulation of tau, a protein that leads to the development of neurofibrillary tangles. Such tangles are one of two signature brain lesions of Alzheimer’s disease. DHA also was found to reduce levels of the protein beta amyloid, which can clump in the brain and form plaques, the other Alzheimer’s lesion.

Previous studies have shown that DHA may have therapeutic value for Alzheimer’s patients, but this research is among the first to show that it may delay the onset of the disease. DHA is found in fish, eggs, organ meats, micro-algae, fortified foods and food supplements.

Since fisheries around the world are getting depleted by excessive demand for fish we really need genetically engineered crop plants that contain more omega 3 fatty acids such as DHA and EPA (eicosapentanoic acid). Monsanto, Dupont, BASF and other companies are chasing this goal.

By Randall Parker    2007 April 19 11:04 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (7)
2007 February 18 Sunday
Coffee Drinking Slows Cognitive Decline

Big coffee drinkers experience less cognitive decline as they age.

Six hundred and seventy six healthy men born between 1900 and 1920 from Finland, Italy and the Netherlands participated in a 10-year prospective cohort study.


Results:Men who consumed coffee had a 10-year cognitive decline of 1.2 points (4%). Non-consumers had an additional decline of 1.4 points (P<0.001). An inverse and J-shaped association was observed between the number of cups of coffee consumed and cognitive decline, with the least cognitive decline for three cups of coffee per day (0.6 points). This decline was 4.3 times smaller than the decline of non-consumers (P<0.001).Conclusions:Findings suggest that consuming coffee reduces cognitive decline in elderly men.

This makes sense. Recall my recent post High Caffeine Diets Reduce Heart Risk In Over 65s. Also recall my other related recent post Reduced Blood Flow And Inflammation Precede Alzheimers Put those two together. If something reduces the risk of heart disease it probably improves circulation overall. Well, circulatory problems might well be the root cause of Alzheimer's Disease. If coffee slows the aging of the vascular system then it will reduce both heart disease and Alzheimer's.

Coffee isn't the only candidate for delivering that benefit. Tea and dark chocolate (even more so cocoa powder) have many of the same compounds.

Mars, the makers of Dove chocolates, has just put out a press release describing recent research on the health effects of cocoa. Flavanols in chocolate boost circulation in the brain.

A special cocoa made to retain naturally occurring compounds called flavanols may have the potential to help maintain healthy brain function and chart the course for future research that could lead to new solutions for preventing cognitive decline and dementia, according to a panel of scientists who presented new data at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

The enhanced brain blood flow from cocoa mentioned below might reduce the odds of developing Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia associated with old age.

During the session entitled "The Neurobiology of Chocolate: A Mind- Altering Experience?," a panel of scientists presented evidence from several recent studies that demonstrated the enhanced brain blood flow after study participants consumed a specially formulated flavanol-rich cocoa beverage that was supplied by Mars, Incorporated. One study, conducted by Ian A. Macdonald, PhD, from the University of Nottingham Medical School in the United Kingdom, found that the consumption of this cocoa resulted in regional changes in blood flow in study participants, suggesting that cocoa flavanols may have therapeutic potential for the treatment of vascular impairments within the brain itself.

"Our study showed that acute consumption of this particular flavanol-rich cocoa beverage was associated with increased blood flow to grey matter for 2 to 3 hours," Macdonald said. "This raises the possibility that certain food components like cocoa flavanols may be beneficial in increasing brain blood flow and enhancing brain function among older adults or for others in situations where they may be cognitively impaired, such as fatigue or sleep deprivation."

Mars has their own method of processing cocoa called CocoaPro that retains more of the bioflavonoids found in cocoa. While choosing one brand of chocolate over another might help it is more important to eat cocoa in a form that is least diluted. For example, milk chocolate is most diluted. Dark chocolate is less diluted. Semisweet chocolate is even less diluted. The less sugar and the more cocoa the stronger the dose.

By Randall Parker    2007 February 18 09:58 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (6)
2007 January 18 Thursday
Folic Acid Slows Brain Aging Unless B-12 Deficient

In a January 2007 edition of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, A David Smith of University of Oxford surveys recent reports on the health effects of higher folic acid consumption. In a nutshell: Folic acid appears to slow brain aging for those who have lots of B-12 but for those with B-12 deficiency higher folic acid consumption makes the brain decline more rapidly.

Interestingly, Morris et al report both a "good" and a "not-so-good" side of folate. In agreement with current knowledge, they found that a low vitamin B-12 status is associated with macrocytosis, anemia, and cognitive impairment. The key finding in this report concerns interactions between folate status and vitamin B-12 status. The "good news" is that, in subjects with a normal vitamin B-12 status, high serum folate (>59 nmol/L) was associated with protection from cognitive impairment. This finding is remarkable in a population with a much higher mean folate concentration (39 nmol/L) than that seen in countries where there is no mandatory folate fortification. A similar result was reported for Latinos living in California, where higher red blood cell folate concentrations after fortification were associated with protection from cognitive impairment and dementia (11). Simply put, if your vitamin B-12 status is good, folate supplementation is good for you!

So good so far. But there's a gray lining in that silver cloud. Higher folic acid consumption appears to lower cognitive function in those with low B-12 in their blood serum.

The "not-so-good" news from the study by Morris et al is that the relation between high serum folate and cognitive impairment was reversed in subjects who had a low vitamin B-12 status. Those with a low vitamin B-12 status (serum cobalamin <148 pmol/L) and high serum folate (>59 nmol/L) had an odds ratio for cognitive impairment of 5 compared with those whose vitamin B-12 status and folate status were both normal. This group, which had a low vitamin B-12 status and a high serum folate concentration also had an odds ratio close to 5 for anemia. Thus, the simple interpretation is that the cognitive impairment and anemia usually associated with low vitamin B-12 status are made much worse by a high folate status.

This result supports the theory of some nutrition researchers that folic acid supplementation doesn't just mask B-12 deficiency. Folic acid makes the damaging effects of B-12 deficiency worse. One of the effects of B-12 deficiency is neurological damage.

You might think you are not at risk of B-12 deficiency because you eat lots of meat or perhaps you take a B-12 supplement. You might be right. But some people have an impaired ability to absorb B-12. So without a blood test you can't be absolutely sure that your B-12 status is fine.

4% of the elderly in this one study had both high folic acid and low B12.

Morris et al found that {approx}4% of the elderly persons they studied had a combination of low vitamin B-12 status and high folate status. If the same proportion of all elderly persons in the United States is affected, then {approx}1.8 million elderly might be at increased risk of cognitive impairment and anemia because of an imbalance between folate and vitamin B-12.

If you are deficient in B-12 you are at increased risk of neural damage already. The inability to absorb B-12 rises with age. But periodic B-12 injections can restore B-12 levels. So those with B12 deficiency are best off treating their problem with diet and with injections if necessary.

Dr Jane Durga of the University of Wageningen in the Netherlands just published a paper in :Lancet finding late middle age and early elderly people who take daily folic acid have higher performing brains.

Researchers found that men and post-menopausal women aged between 50 and 70 who took daily doses had the mental abilities of those almost five years their junior.

The supplements also helped maintain speed of information processing, reactions involving movement and overall brain power. These abilities decline with age, and their loss has been linked to a higher risk of dementia.

Another study just published in Archives of Neurology found those with higher folic acid consumption have reduced risk of Alzheimer's Disease.

The study, led by Dr. Jose Luchsinger of Columbia University Medical Center in New York, looked at 965 people age 65 and older in Manhattan. Those with higher levels of folate through diet and supplements were less likely to get the devastating brain ailment, the study found.

In an attempt to reduce the incidence of neural tube defects the US Food and Drug Administration mandated the fortification of many grains with folic acid in 1998. But since whole grains used in whole grain breads are not fortified a popular shift toward the use of whole grains and the attempts by many women to reduce carbohydrate consumption to control weight have reduced the concentration of folic acid in the blood of American women since 2000.

Now, it seems, even that first sign of progress is eroding — an apparent victim of dietary shifts, obesity and the stubborn resistance of women in their childbearing years to taking a multivitamin. In a report issued Jan. 5, the CDC found that among women in their childbearing years, blood folate levels had declined 16% by 2004 from the levels recorded in 2000.

The March of Dimes is calling for a doubling of grain folic acid fortification. But as the first article above shows, some scientists are afraid higher folic acid consumption will cause net harm to millions who do not absorb enough B-12.

It might be a good idea to get your blood B-12 tested. If you are deficient then you can change your diet or get a periodic B-12 shot or try taking a B-12 supplement. Once you have enough B-12 then boosting your folic acid is probably a good idea. My advice: Get the folic acid from beans and greens. You'll derive numerous other benefits that way. If you avoid animal products in your diet then get B-12 in a supplement or in highly fortified foods (e.g. Total cereal).

By Randall Parker    2007 January 18 09:29 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (3)
2006 October 24 Tuesday
Vegetables Slow Brain Aging

Hate brain aging as much as I do? Eat a few servings of vegetables a day to slow your rate of cognitive decline.

CHICAGO - Eating vegetables, not fruit, helps slow down the rate of cognitive change in older adults, according to a study published in the October 24, 2006, issue of Neurology, the scientific journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

In determining whether there was an association between vegetables, fruit and cognitive decline, researchers from Rush University Medical Center studied 3,718 residents in Chicago, Illinois, who were age 65 and older. Participants completed a food frequency questionnaire and received at least two cognitive tests over a six-year period.

“Compared to people who consumed less than one serving of vegetables a day, people who ate at least 2.8 servings of vegetables a day saw their rate of cognitive change slow by roughly 40 percent, said study author Martha Clare Morris, ScD, associate professor at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, Illinois. “This decrease is equivalent to about 5 years of younger age.”

Of the different types of vegetables consumed by participants, green leafy vegetables had the strongest association to slowing the rate of cognitive decline. The study also found the older the person, the greater the slowdown in the rate of cognitive decline if that person consumed more than two servings of vegetables a day. Surprisingly, the study found fruit consumption was not associated with cognitive change.

Maybe vitamin E makes vegetables more beneficial for the brain than fruits.

“This was unanticipated and raises several questions,” said Morris. “It may be due to vegetables containing high amounts of vitamin E, which helps lowers the risk of cognitive decline. Vegetables, but not fruits, are also typically consumed with added fats such as salad dressings, and fats increase the absorption of vitamin E. Further study is required to understand why fruit is not associated with cognitive change.”

Then again, maybe other compounds in vegetables protect the brain.

Harvard epidemiologist Meir Stampfer thinks this study was well done.

"This is a sound paper and contributes to our understanding of cognitive decline," said Dr. Meir Stampfer of Harvard's School of Public Health.

"The findings specific for vegetables and not fruit add further credibility that this is not simply a marker of a more healthful lifestyle," said Stampfer, who was not involved in the research.

Some of the commentary about this study answers a curiosity question I've had of late: Most people eat few berries and so population studies on the health effects of fruit consumption do not capture the effects of berry consumption on aging.

Matt Kaeberlein, who conducts research on the biochemical processes of aging at the University of Washington, was surprised the study didn't show any beneficial effect of eating fruit on cognitive decline.

Studies in animals, he said, show that berries—particularly blueberries, strawberries and cranberries—seem to protect memory in aging animals. And a diet high in fruits and vegetables has been linked to protection against heart disease, cancer, stroke, diverticulosis, diabetes and obesity.

Morris agreed that animal research indicates that berries may help preserve memory but that too few people in the study consumed berries regularly to determine if they helped preserve memory and other cognitive functions.

I'm going to keep eating a few bags of dried cranberries every week.

Brain aging is the worst kind of aging. Death of brain cells amounts to the death of part of who you are. Decline in cognitive function is the worst sort of decline in an economy where brain work keeps rising in value while physical work declines in value.

Even worse, brain rejuvenation is going to be the hardest part of body rejuvenation. 20 or 30 years from now if your kidneys or liver or lungs get too old the technology will be available to grow replacements. Or if your heart has lost a lot of muscle cells then stem cell therapies might be able to repair the heart in place. But the brain is a much tougher problem.

The study author Martha Clare Morris above has previously found other dietary factors that influence the rate of brain aging. See my posts Fish In Diet Slows Rate Of Cognitive Decline and Faster Brain Decline With More Fat And Copper In Diets.

Vitamin E is not the only plausible vitamin in green leafy vegetables that might be responsible for the brain protective effects reported above. Also see my post Folic Acid Slows Cognitive Decline With Age. To get lots of folic acid eat greens and beans.

Apple juice and the curcumin in curry might both have protective effects against Alzheimer's Disease.

By Randall Parker    2006 October 24 09:28 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (6)
2006 September 02 Saturday
Fruit And Vegetable Juices Make Big Cut In Alzheimers Risk

Want to lower your Alzheimer's risk by 76%?

In a large epidemiological study, researchers found that people who drank three or more servings of fruit and vegetable juices per week had a 76 percent lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease than those who drank juice less than once per week.

The study by Qi Dai, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of Medicine, and colleagues appears in the September issue of The American Journal of Medicine.

The researchers followed a subset of subjects from a large cross-cultural study of dementia, called the Ni-Hon-Sea Project, which investigated Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia in older Japanese populations living in Japan, Hawaii and Seattle, Wash.

For the current study, called the Kame Project, the researchers identified 1,836 dementia-free subjects in the Seattle population and collected information on their dietary consumption of fruit and vegetable juices. They then assessed cognitive function every two years for up to 10 years.

After controlling for possible confounding factors like smoking, education, physical activity and fat intake, the researchers found that those who reported drinking juices three or more times per week were 76 percent less likely to develop signs of Alzheimer’s disease than those who drank less than one serving per week.

The benefit appeared particularly enhanced in subjects who carry the apolipoprotein E ÿ-4 allele, a genetic marker linked to late-onset Alzheimer’s disease – the most common form of the disease, which typically occurs after the age of 65.

A diet that cuts Alzheimer's risk probably cuts stroke and heart disease risk as well.

Researchers have found that vitamins C, E, and beta carotene do not provide a neuroprotective effect against Alzheimer's. Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) also have been found to provide little or no benefit. The researchers behind this study suspected that perhaps polyphenols in foods provide benefit.

Dai began to suspect that another class of antioxidant chemicals, known as polyphenols, could play a role. Polyphenols are non-vitamin antioxidants common in the diet and particularly abundant in teas, juices and wines. Most polyphenols exist primarily in the skins and peels of fruits and vegetables. Recent studies have shown that polyphenols (like resveratrol in wine) extend maximum lifespan by 59 percent and delay age-dependent decay of cognitive performance in animal models.

"Also, animal studies and cell culture studies confirmed that some polyphenols from juices showed a stronger neuroprotective effect than antioxidant vitamins. So we are now looking at polyphenols," Dai said.

The researchers intend to check blood polyphenol levels to see if high polyphenols correlate with low Alzheimer's risk.

The nomenclature here may seem confusing. Catechins in tea are both polyphenols and flavonoids. Polyphenols are a larger set of chemical compounds which includes flavonoids as a subset. Then within the subset called flavonoids exists the smaller subset catechins. Fruits have flavonoids called anthocyanins. Tea and wine (and presumably dark grape juice) contain flavonoids called catechins.

Obvious question: Was the protective effect against Alzheimer's seen in this study due to catechins from tea and grape juice or from anthocyanins found in fruits? Or perhaps from other flavonoids called flavones and flavonols? Or other polyphenols? Or some combination of the above? I'm sorry I do not have an answer for you.

One obvious question: Drink the juice or eat whole fruits and vegetables? Well, juices appear to work (see above) and are quicker to consume. But perhaps the people who consume more fruit and vegetable juices also eat more fruits and vegetables. It is not clear what confounding factors these researchers controlled for.

Writing in the article, Qi Dai, MD, PhD, states, “We found that frequent drinking of fruit and vegetable juices was associated with a substantially decreased risk of Alzheimer’s disease. This inverse association was stronger after adjustments for potential confounding factors, and the association was evident in all strata of selected variables. These findings are new and suggest that fruit and vegetable juices may play an important role in delaying the onset of Alzheimer’s disease”.

I find it really surprising that these researchers could find an influence from juices above the background of all the other factors that will influence polyphenol content of diet.

Enormous amounts of other research has been done on the health benefits of polyphenols including flavonoids. Green tea catechins might reduce the risk of prostate cancer.

Anaheim, Calif. – After a year's oral administration of green tea catechins (GTCs), only one man in a group of 32 at high risk for prostate cancer developed the disease, compared to nine out of 30 in a control, according to a team of Italian researchers from the University of Parma and University of Modena and Reggio Emilia led by Saverio Bettuzzi, Ph.D.


The 600 mg-per-day dosage of caffeine-free, total catechins (50 percent of which is EGCG) given to participants in the Italian study is one or two times the amount of green tea consumed daily in China, where ten to 20 cups a day is normal.

I do not want to drink 10, let alone 20, cups of green tea a day. I'd rather take some caffeine-free catechin capsules. Better yet, I'd rather figure out which fruits and vegetables would deliver the same benefits and eat them instead.

Green tea is very popular in Japan and its consumption there might be the cause of lower Alzheimer's in Japanese in Japan as compared to Japanese in America.

Another paper which reported a reduction in blood plasma peroxide free radicals with green tea extract found a higher concentration of catechin polyphenols per cup of green tea.

"We believe we have shown for the first time the course change of both green tea catechin levels in human plasma as well as human plasma lipid peroxide levels after oral green tea catechin supplementation, " said Teruo Miyazawa, Ph.D., biodynamic chemistry professor at the Tohoku University Graduate School of Life Science and Agriculture and the study's principal investigator.


In the study, 18 healthy male subjects between the ages of 23 and 41 ingested green tea extracts in tablet form (including 254 milligrams of catechins per subject - one cup of green tea contains about 100 to 150 milligrams of catechin). All of the subjects avoided tea and tea-related beverages for 12 hours prior to the testing. Blood samples were taken one hour before and after the catechin ingestion.

I'd love to see a massive comparison study of a wide range of fruits and vegetables, juices, teas, and cocoa (which also contains catechins) where the effects of each food on blood plasma peroxides, blood pressure, and other indicators were compared. What are the most potent foods to eat?

Black tea was found to be the biggest source of catechin polyphenols among elderly Dutch men.

The 806 male participants, averaging age 71 in 1985, were followed until 1995, with complete dietary and medical examinations in 1985 and 1990. Epidemiological evaluation of the health effects of catechins has previously been difficult due to the lack of information on the exact catechin composition of foods. For this study, the authors measured the catechin content of 120 frequently consumed plant foods, using the data to divide the subjects into low, medium and high quintiles of catechin consumption.

Among the men in the highest quintile, 87% of catechins in the diet came from black tea; whereas those in lower quintiles ate more foods in which catechins were less concentrated. High catechin intake was associated with other practices characteristic of a healthy lifestyle, such as refraining from smoking, eating more fruits and vegetables, and increased activity levels.

For examples of more on the health benefits of tea see these research reports: Tea Intake Is Inversely Related to Blood Pressure in Older Women and Black and Green Tea Polyphenols Attenuate Blood Pressure Increases in Stroke-Prone Spontaneously Hypertensive Rats.

Green tea is hardly the only food that can improve blood flow and reduce blood free radicals. For example, see the research paper: Wine Polyphenols Decrease Blood Pressure, Improve NO Vasodilatation, and Induce Gene Expression. The "NO" in the title refers to Nitric Oxide which is a naturally occurring vasodilator (i.e. it makes blood vessels widen which lowers blood pressure). Nitric oxide deficiency is, in all likelihood, a cause of high blood pressure. Some drugs release NO as their mechanism of action. Viagra and Cialis work by releasing NO to cause blood to flow in the right places for male sexual function. Minoxidil, the anti-hair loss drug, has the "nox" in its name because it too is an NO releaser. But better to raise your vascular NO by diet before resorting to drug use. The foods that'll improve NO will also deliver other benefits.

By Randall Parker    2006 September 02 10:13 AM   Entry Permalink | Comments (7)
2006 August 14 Monday
Faster Brain Decline With More Fat And Copper In Diets

A high copper diet may accelerate brain aging but only if a diet also includes lots of saturated and trans fats.

Martha Clare Morris, Sc.D., associated professor at the Institute for Healthy Aging at Rush University Medical Center, and her colleagues assessed the connection between dietary fat and dietary copper intake in 3,718 Chicago residents age 65 years and older. Participants underwent cognitive testing at the beginning of the study, after three years and after six years. An average of one year after the study began, they filled out a questionnaire about their diets. The dietary recommended allowance of copper for adults is .9 milligrams per day. Organ meats, such as liver, and shellfish are the foods with the highest copper levels, followed by nuts, seeds, legumes, whole grains, potatoes, chocolate and some fruits. Copper pipes may also add trace amounts of the metal to drinking water.

Cognitive abilities declined in all participants as they aged. Overall, copper intake was not associated with the rate of this decline. However, among the 604 individuals (16.2 percent of the study group) who consumed the most saturated and trans fats, cognitive function deteriorated more rapidly with the more copper they had in their diets. “The increase in rate for the high-fat consumers whose total copper intake was in the top 20 percent (greater than or equal to 1.6 milligrams per day) was equivalent to 19 more years of age,” the authors write.

This sounds like a stronger argument for reducing saturated and trans fats than for reducing copper in the diet. We already have plenty of reasons to avoid saturated and trans fats. Here's another one.

By Randall Parker    2006 August 14 11:11 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (10)
2005 October 11 Tuesday
Fish In Diet Slows Rate Of Cognitive Decline

Here is more evidence for the benefit of fish for reducing the rate of brain aging.

CHICAGO – Consuming fish at least once a week was associated with a 10 percent per year slower rate of cognitive decline in elderly people, according to a new study posted online today from Archives of Neurology, one of the JAMA/Archives journals. The study will be published in the December print edition of the journal.

Martha Clare Morris, ScD, of Rush University Medical Center, and colleagues analyzed six years of data from an ongoing study of Chicago residents, 65 years and older, first interviewed between 1993 and 1997 and every three years in two follow-up interviews. Interviews included four standardized cognitive tests and dietary questions on the frequency of consumption of 139 different foods, as well as questions of daily activities, exercise levels, alcohol consumption and medical history.

Morris found dietary intake of fish was inversely associated with cognitive decline over six years in this older, biracial community study. "The rate of decline was reduced by 10 percent to 13 percent per year among persons who consumed one or more fish meals per week compared with those with less than weekly consumption. The rate reduction is the equivalent of being three to four years younger in age," she said.

The benefit might not be from omega 3 fatty acids.

Although fish is a direct source of omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to protect against Alzheimer's disease and stroke, the dietary intake of omega-3 fatty acids was not associated with cognitive change in this study.

In addition, neither consumption of fruit and vegetables nor overall cardiovascular health appeared to account for the study findings, the researchers said.

However, see below for another report that demonstrates a mechanism by which omega 3 fatty acid DHA reduces inflammation and protects brain cells from damage and cell death.

Morris has previously reported that consumption of foods high in vitamin E reduces the incidence of Alzheimer's Diseaes.

Louisiana State University researcher Nicolas G. Bazan has just recently discovered a mechanism by which omega 3 fatty acid DHA protects the brain from neurotoxins and prevents cell death.

Their study shows that docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), an omega-3 fatty acid found in coldwater fish such as mackerel, sardines and salmon, reduces levels of a protein known to cause damaging plaques in the brains of Alzheimer's patients.

What's more, the researchers discovered that a derivative of DHA, which they dubbed "neuroprotectin D1" (NPD1), is made in the human brain. That natural substance plays a key role, too, in protecting the brain from cell death, the study showed.

Here is Bazan's paper.

A time-dependent release of endogenous free DHA followed by NPD1 formation occurs, suggesting that a phospholipase A2 releases the mediator’s precursor. When NPD1 is infused during ischemia-reperfusion or added to RPE cells during oxidative stress, apoptotic DNA damage is down-regulated. NPD1 also up-regulates the anti-apoptotic Bcl-2 proteins Bcl-2 and BclxL and decreases pro-apoptotic Bax and Bad expression. Moreover, NPD1 inhibits oxidative stress-induced caspase-3 activation. NPD1 also inhibits IL-1 -stimulated expression of COX-2. Overall, NPD1 protects cells from oxidative stress-induced apoptosis.

I just decided to have salmon for lunch.

By Randall Parker    2005 October 11 09:49 AM   Entry Permalink | Comments (9)
2005 September 25 Sunday
Folic Acid Slows Cognitive Decline With Age

To protect your brain from the slings and arrows of aging eat high folic acid foods such as greens and beans.

According to a recent report in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, folate, a B vitamin found in foods like leafy green vegetables and citrus fruit, may protect against cognitive decline in older adults. The research was conducted by scientists at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University.

A team led by Katherine L. Tucker, PhD, director and professor of the Nutritional Epidemiology Program at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts, studied a group of Boston-area men who were members of the ongoing Normative Aging Study (NAS). Tucker and her colleagues found that men who obtained more folate in their diets showed significantly less of a decline in verbal fluency skills over the course of three years than did men with lower dietary folate intake.

High folate levels, both in the diet and in the blood, also appeared to be protective against declines in another category of cognitive skills known as spatial copying. To test this, the 50- to 85-year-old study participants were asked to copy various shapes and figures, and their drawings were assessed for accuracy. "The men took a series of cognitive tests at the beginning of the study period and then repeated those tests three years later," explained Tucker. "We compared their first and second scores, reviewed their responses to dietary questionnaires, and took blood samples in order to see if nutrient levels in the diet and the blood were related to changes in cognitive performance."

In an earlier study with the same NAS group, which corroborated the findings of other investigators, the Tufts research team observed that high homocysteine--a known blood marker of cardiovascular disease risk--was associated with lower cognitive test scores.

Since folate supplementation can help reduce blood levels of homocysteine, it was thought that this might explain folate's beneficial effects. However, in the current study, the effects of folate were independent of its impact on homocysteine, which turned out to be more strongly associated with tests of memory.

"Unlike our prior work with this population, in which we observed an association between low folate levels and lower cognitive test scores at one point in time, this study looks at the effects of these nutrients over time." Tucker says, "That is an important step in establishing causality."

So low folic acid (a.k.a. folate) causes faster general cognitive decline but high homocysteine causes faster memory decline. Well, vitamins B-12 and B-6 also help keep down homocysteine. A lot of old people have a diminished capacity to absorb B-12. and some even need periodic B-12 shots. High homocysteine is also strongly suspected as a risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

The journal article for this report:

Tucker KL, Qiao N, Scott T, Rosenberg I, Spiro A, III. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2005; 82: 627. "High homocysteine and low B vitamins predict cognitive decline in aging men: the Veterans Affairs Normative Aging Study."

By Randall Parker    2005 September 25 01:49 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (3)
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