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Study after study finds all sorts of negative health effects from exposure to pesticides, including cancers, endocrine (hormone) disruption, and neurological effects.  Pesticide exposures can occur in the home, at work or school, in the air (drift), and in food and water. A recent study found that higher chronic pesticide exposure, such as occupational exposure (e.g. farm worker), is linked to developing Parkinson's disease.

University of California San Francisco (UCSF) researchers found the higher rates of Parkinson's disease both in people who have genetic susceptibility to developing the disease, and also in those who don't have a genetic susceptibility. Meaning everyone is at risk for developing Parkinson's disease with enough chronic exposure.

Studies find that chronic exposure to some pesticides has a higher risk for Parkinson's disease than others, and especially strong links are with the pesticides 2,4-D, chlorpyrifos, paraquat, glyphosate, and rotenone. Some countries, including in Europe and Canada, ban the use of some of these chemicals due to concerns about links to Parkinson’s, but the U.S. only restricts the use of some of them (e.g. paraquat).

Many pesticides are neurotoxins. Dr. Ray Dorsey (publisher of book: Ending Parkinson's Disease: A Prescription for Action ) said studies show a dose-response effect between chronic pesticide exposure and Parkinson's disease: "an almost perfect correlation between the amount of pesticides used in certain communities and the rates of PD. He points out that Parkinson's disease is the world's fastest growing brain disease with a lifetime risk of about 1 in 15. (That's high!)

Bottom line: Try to minimize your exposure to pesticides. Organic farms don't use the pesticides implicated in neurological harm - because organic standards don't allow it. Also, use organic or least-toxic Integrated Pest Management (IPM) for pest control in your home. Avoid using pesticides in your yard, especially the lawn. Stay away from recently pesticide treated areas. Eat organic foods as much as possible.

In the following article: sporadic Parkinson's disease means it happened spontaneously, which is different from someone having a genetic risk factor. From Beyond Pesticides: Pesticide Exposure Increases the Risk of Developing Gene-Specific and Sporadic Parkinson’s Disease Incidences

Research at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) finds that pesticide exposure increases the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease (PD), regardless of whether disease onset is idiopathic (spontaneous) or genetic (GBA genetic risk variant). Although the exact etiology [cause] of PD remains unknown, epidemiological and toxicological research repeatedly identifies exposure to pesticides, as well as specific gene-pesticide interactions, as significant adverse risk factors that contribute to PD. Furthermore, this study, “Gene Variants May Affect PD Risk After Pesticide Exposure,” suggests that environmental triggers like occupational exposure to pesticides can prompt PD in individuals with or without the genetic precursor ...continue reading "Pesticides Linked to Parkinson’s Disease"

Pregnancy is a time when one should try to eat as well as possible, especially for the health of the developing baby. Included in this is the baby's brain development and later intellectual functioning (neurocognitive development). A recent study found that a mother's vitamin D levels during pregnancy are associated with the IQ of the child - that is, higher levels of vitamin D during the second trimester  of pregnancy were associated with higher IQs at age 4 to 6 in the child.

Just keep in mind that it's an association - it does not mean that lower vitamin D levels cause lower IQ. Vitamin D levels go hand in hand with other things - for example, vitamin D levels are lower when a person has chronic inflammation or an underlying health condition. Other studies have had mixed results - some had similar findings of effects on intellectual development, but others did not. Black women are at higher risk of vitamin D deficiencies due to their skin melanin content (harder to get enough vitamin D from the sun).

However, these results do add support for trying to correct vitamin D deficiencies and keeping vitamin D levels higher during pregnancy - by taking supplements and getting sunlight. Note that it's very hard to get enough vitamin D through food. The researchers said that prenatal supplements typically contain 400–600 IU vitamin D, but this is probably insufficient to correct vitamin D deficiencies, in which case they recommend daily supplementation of 800 to 1000 IU vitamin D.

From Medical Xpress: Vitamin D levels during pregnancy linked with child IQ

Vitamin D is a critical nutrient and has many important functions in the body. A mother's vitamin D supply is passed to her baby in utero and helps regulate processes including brain development. A study published today in The Journal of Nutrition showed that mothers' vitamin D levels during pregnancy were associated with their children's IQ, suggesting that higher vitamin D levels in pregnancy may lead to greater childhood IQ scores. The study also identified significantly lower levels of vitamin D levels among Black pregnant women. ...continue reading "Vitamin D Levels During Pregnancy Associated With A Child’s IQ"

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?"