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Exercise is good for memory and the brain. University of Geneva researchers found that even one short bout of moderate or intense exercise improves memory and acquisition of new motor skills.

In a well-designed study, 15 healthy volunteers exercised intensely for 15 minutes, moderately for 30 minutes, or rested, and were given various tests both before and after exercising. They found that exercise had beneficial effects on the hippocampus of the brain, and that physical exercise improves some types of memory. The hippocampus plays a critical role in learning and memory.

Intense physical exercise improves memory functions by increasing neural plasticity in the hippocampus. [Note: increasing plasticity of the brain is good.] The findings of this study match earlier animal research, in that "a single session of physical exercise has been shown to boost anandamide (AEA), an endocannabinoid known to promote hippocampal plasticity".

The researchers felt that this study provided additional evidence that physical exercise could possibly prevent cognitive decline as people age. Typically some cognitive decline, along with a reduction in brain volume, occurs in the aging brain, so slowing down or preventing cognitive decline is desirable. Bottom line: Get out and move, move, move for brain health! By the way, all physical activity is better than no activity.

From Medical Xpress: Sport and memory go hand in hand

If sport is good for the body, it also seems to be good for the brain. By evaluating memory performance following a sport session, neuroscientists from the University of Geneva (UNIGE) demonstrate that an intensive physical exercise session as short as 15 minutes on a bicycle improves memory, including the acquisition of new motor skills. ...continue reading "Some Intense Exercise Is Beneficial For The Brain"

Looking for  a reason to stop smoking? How about brain bleeds? A recent study found that cigarette smoking is linked to death from the extremely serious bleeding stroke called subarachnoid hemorrhage (SAH).

Researchers in Finland followed 16,282 twin pairs for over 40 years. They found that for both men and women smoking was strongly linked to death from a subarachnoid hemorrhage, and was more important than any genetic factors (which had a "modest link" to only a few deaths). They also did not find a link with high blood pressure, or levels of physical activity.

A subarachnoid hemorrhage is a type of stroke that results from bleeding in the space between the brain and the thin membrane that covers it (subarachnoid space). A SAH occurs in about 5 to 6% of all strokes. It is a medical emergency that frequently leads to death.

Excerpts from Science Daily: Smoking linked to bleeding in the brain in large, long-term study of twins

An investigation of the Finnish Twin Cohort reaffirmed a link between smoking and subarachnoid hemorrhage (SAH), a type of bleeding stroke that occurs under the membrane that covers the brain and is frequently fatal. The new study by researchers in Finland is published today in Stroke, a journal of the American Stroke Association, a division of the American Heart Association.  ...continue reading "Smoking Linked To Hemorrhagic Stroke Deaths"

A recent study found that eating higher levels of foods with flavonoids (e.g. berries, apples, and tea) may lower the risk of later development of Alzheimer's disease and other age-related dementias.

Since currently there are no effective drugs that prevent or actual medical treatments for dementia, it is great that what a person eats (the dietary pattern) long-term may be protective. Something we can do to lower our risk for Alzheimer's disease and other dementias!

Tufts University researchers followed 2801 persons (50 years and older) for 20 years and found that those with the lowest intake of flavonoid rich foods (especially 3 flavonoid classes: flavonols, anthocyanins, and flavonoid polymers) had a 20 to 40% higher chance of developing Alzheimer's disease and other dementias, when compared to those eating the most flavonoid rich foods. [Note: The lowest intake group averaged  about 1 1/2 apples, but no berries or tea per month.]

Flavonoids are naturally occurring bioactive pigments, of which there are 7 types, that are found in plant-based foods. Some good sources of different types of flavonoids include berries & red wine (anthocyanin rich), onions & apples, pears (flavonol rich), citrus fruits and juices, teas, dark chocolate, parsley, celery,and soy products.

Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables appears to be best for health benefits. There is no one super-food. Other studies also find that the Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes fruits and vegetables (thus flavonoid rich), may reduce the risk of cognitive decline and dementia, including Alzheimer's disease.

Why are flavonoid containing foods protective, specifically "neuroprotective"? Studies suggest that they do the following: antioxidant effects, protect neurons from neurotoxins and combat neuroinflammation, and favorable changes in brain blood flow,

Excerpts from Science Daily: More berries, apples and tea may have protective benefits against Alzheimer's

Older adults who consumed small amounts of flavonoid-rich foods, such as berries, apples and tea, were two to four times more likely to develop Alzheimer's disease and related dementias over 20 years compared with people whose intake was higher, according to a new study led by scientists at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging (USDA HNRCA) at Tufts University.  ...continue reading "Eating More Fruits and Berries Lowers Risk of Dementia"

Could our risk of getting Alzheimer's disease be lowered by something as simple as getting flu and pneumonia vaccines? Two large observational studies suggest just that.

The studies, which were presented at this year's Alzheimer's Association International Conference (AAIC), found that: getting a flu vaccine (with more than one flu shot over the years even better), getting the flu vaccines at a younger age, and additionally getting the pneumonia vaccine between the ages of 65 and 75 years were all associated with a lowered risk of Alzheimer's disease. It's as if they somehow were brain protective.

Excerpts from Medscape: Flu, Pneumonia Vaccination Tied to Lower Dementia Risk

Vaccinations against influenza and pneumonia may help protect against Alzheimer's disease (AD), two large observational studies suggest.

In a cohort study of more than 9000 older adults, receiving a single influenza vaccination was associated with a 17% lower prevalence of AD compared with not receiving the vaccine. In addition, for those who were vaccinated more than once over the years, there was an additional 13% reduction in AD incidence.  ...continue reading "Flu and Pneumonia Vaccinations Linked To a Lower Alzheimer’s Disease Risk"

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Great news for those who enjoy a glass of wine or beer every day! A large study found that light to moderate drinking among middle-aged to older adults may preserve brain function as they age. Over a 10 year period, those who drank a drink or two a day tended to have better test scores in a series of tests that measured cognitive functioning.

Normally there is some cognitive decline as people age. But researchers found that low to moderate drinking (less than 8 drinks per week for women and less than 15 drinks for men) was associated with consistently higher mental functioning and slower rates of cognitive decline (when compared to those who never drank or drank more). They found that these associations were similar for both men and women, but stronger among white participants than black participants.

Just keep in mind that while this and other studies find cognitive benefits from drinking alcohol (in humans and mice), other studies find harms from drinking alcohol, specifically increased risk of many cancers.

From Science Daily: Light drinking may protect brain function

Light to moderate drinking may preserve brain function in older age, according to a new study from the University of Georgia.  ...continue reading "Is A Daily Glass Of Alcohol Good For The Brain?"

The possibility that rising carbon dioxide levels could eventually result in harmful effects on people's thinking (cognition) is scary. Currently levels are above 400 ppm and rising steadily each year. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts that outdoor CO2 levels could climb to 930 ppm by 2100, which means urban and indoor levels would be even higher.

Studies suggest that at high levels of carbon dioxide our thinking gets worse. A University of Colorado study reports that a growing body of evidence finds that as CO2 levels increase, there are effects on thinking (cognitive functioning), including decision making, planning, and complex strategic thinking. As carbon dioxide levels rise to 945 ppm and higher, the effects are even more significant, especially with mentally demanding tasks.

Think of the air in stuffy conference rooms or offices, which studies show has a negative effect on different aspects of our thought processes. The stuffy air is from higher levels of CO2. What if in the future this is our regular "fresh air", with no possibility of escape? The best case scenario is that we do not allow carbon dioxide levels to get that high by reducing fossil fuel emissions. Starting now.

From Science Daily: Rising carbon dioxide causes more than a climate crisis -- it may directly harm our ability to think

As the 21st century progresses, rising atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations will cause urban and indoor levels of the gas to increase, and that may significantly reduce our basic decision-making ability and complex strategic thinking, according to a new CU Boulder-led study. By the end of the century, people could be exposed to indoor CO2 levels up to 1400 parts per million -- more than three times today's outdoor levels, and well beyond what humans have ever experienced.  ...continue reading "Rising Carbon Dioxide Levels May Harm Our Thought Processes"

Depending on what you normally eat (your dietary pattern), you can either increase your risk for strokes or can decrease your risk. It's up to you.

A large European study involving 9 countries and 418,329 persons found that regularly eating greater amounts of fruits, vegetables, fiber (from foods), milk, cheese, and yogurt were each linked to a lower risk of ischemic stroke. But not hemorrhagic stroke. However, hemorrhagic stroke was associated with a greater consumption of eggs.

The great majority of strokes are ischemic strokes, which occur when an artery in the brain becomes blocked. [Fatty deposits lining the vessel walls, called atherosclerosis, are the main cause.] Hemorrhagic strokes are due to leaking or bursting of a blood vessel in the brain.

On average, participants who developed an ischemic stroke reported lower intakes of cheese, cereals and cereal products, fruit and vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds, but higher intakes of red and processed meat. [NOTE: Once again a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, seeds, nuts is best. Think Mediterranean style dietary pattern.]

Unfortunately, the participants in the study only answered one lifestyle and food questionnaire (asking about their usual diet) at the start of the study, after which they were followed for 12.7 years. The thinking is that people tend not to change how they eat over time. (But is that true for everyone?)

Looking at the study details, I unfortunately did not see any mention of highly processed foods, or oils (vegetable, canola, corn, palm, olive, etc). There is a lot of excitement right now about extra virgin olive oil being healthy, anti-inflammatory, and "protective" for a number of diseases.

From Medical Xpress: Study of 418,000 Europeans finds different foods linked to different types of stroke  ...continue reading "The Foods You Eat And Stroke Risk"

Taller men have a lower rate of dementia? Apparently a number of studies have found a link between height of men and risk of dementia.

The latest is an interesting Danish study that measured the height of more than 666,000 young adult men (at the physical exam for the draft) and then looked at the rates of dementia decades later when they were between 55 to 77 years of age. They found that young men that were above average in height had about a 10% lower rate of dementia more than four decades later.

The researchers thought that the early adulthood height was an indicator of early life environment (such as nutrition and childhood diseases).

What were some of the height differences? "Above average in height" was being at least 1 standard deviation above average height. For example, the researchers found that Danish men born in 1959 who had a mean (average) height of 185.6 cm (73.07") had a 10% lower rate of dementia than men of average height (179.1 cm or 70.5").

From Medical Xpress: Study suggests taller young men may have lower dementia risk

Men who are taller in young adulthood, as an indicator of early-life circumstances, may have a lower risk of dementia in old age, suggests a study published today in eLife.   ...continue reading "Tall Men Have A Lower Rate Of Dementia?"

Air pollution is a killer, but it also does damage in subtle ways - such as having effects on the brain. A recent study found that early childhood exposure to high amounts of traffic-related air pollution (city life, living next to a highway) resulted in the brain having structural changes (differences in brain volume and cortical thickness) at the age of 12 when compared to children who did not have such high exposure to traffic-related air pollution. This means that the changes were permanent.

The study was conducted in Cincinnati, Ohio, but traffic-related air pollution (TRAP) is a problem throughout the world. This type of air pollution has all sorts of gaseous pollutants, fine and ultrafine particles, heavy metals, carbon, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Diesel exhaust may be even worse - it has more than 40 toxic pollutants. When people breathe in the pollutants, the pollutants then can travel to the brain where they can cause damage.

What will it take for governments to really accept the dangers of air pollution and to take the hard steps necessary to toughen standards? Instead of loosening all sorts of pollution standards, which is what is going on in the United States today.

[More studies about air pollution and the brain, including higher risks of dementia, millions of ultra-fine particles getting to the heart and brain and lodging there, and shrinking of brain volume.]

From Science Daily: High air pollution exposure in 1-year-olds linked to structural brain changes at age 12   ...continue reading "What Is Air Pollution From Traffic Doing To Your Brain?"

Notice that the carbon dioxide levels in the air keep rising and rising? Along with the world getting hotter, the carbon dioxide levels are rising, and last year it hit 414.7 parts per million (ppm). This is the highest it has been in at least 800,000 years, and maybe for millions of years! (It's from the burning of fossil fuels.) Soo... the big question is: What will increasingly higher CO2 levels mean for our brains - for our thinking and cognition?

Ever notice that in rooms filled with people, that the air gets stuffier over time? Well, that's the effect of carbon dioxide - as the carbon dioxide levels rise (from us simply exhaling), the air in the room feels stuffier. It can already feel stuffy at 600 ppm. Rooms with people in them (classrooms, office meetings, etc) easily hit over 1000 ppm of carbon dioxide.

Studies suggest that at certain levels of carbon dioxide our thinking gets worse. While study results vary, there does seem to be agreement that "mental processes in the domain of decision making and planning appear to be robustly affected".  And yes, a growing number of studies do find pretty scary results.

For example, one 2016 study that looked at indoor air in office buildings found that: "...seven of nine cognitive function domains tested in a strategic management simulation decreased as CO2 increased. Employee scores were 15 percent lower in a day spent working at 945 ppm, and 50 percent lower at 1,400 ppm." It means that the people weren't thinking all that well as the CO2 levels rose in the air they were breathing.

Research looking at carbon dioxide effects have generally studied the problem as an "indoor pollutant" and used the outdoor air as a comparison. But what happens when the outdoor air of the future is the "high CO2" level studied today?

Some physical effects of rising carbon dioxide exposure in humans: increased CO2 in the lungs, in the blood, and in the brain (which is associated with reduced oxygen and brain activity), increased sleepiness and anxiety (both of which harm cognitive function), and acidosis (lowered blood pH - which leads to symptoms such as restlessness and a rise in blood pressure). One study in juvenile rats found "reduced levels of neuroprotective growth factor", which harmed brain development and impaired learning and memory.

What about babies and children? Developing fetuses? The elderly? The sick?  All unknown. Also, studies looking at effects are short term, but our future (if not changed) will have us exposed to higher and higher levels of CO2 all the time.

Keep in mind that as outdoor carbon dioxide levels rise, indoor levels will also rise.  Think about it - opening a window to let in some fresh air will only give you the CO2 levels in the outside air. If that is high and feels stuffy, that's what you'll get. All the time. Why isn't everyone discussing this issue? 

Excerpts from Robinson Meyer's article at The Atlantic: The Human Brain Evolved When Carbon Dioxide Was Lower   ...continue reading "What Will Rising Carbon Dioxide Levels Do To Our Brains and Thinking Abilities?"