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Human brains are getting larger each decade. That's the conclusion of researchers conducting the large Framingham Heart study which has now gone on for 75 years.

Between 1999 and 2019 the researchers conducted MRIs on participants born from the 1930s to the 1970s, with participants having an average age of 57. They found that each decade the brain volume steadily increased, with the brains of people born in the 1970s having 6.6% more volume than those born in the 1930s. Brain surface area increased about 15% in that time.

Brain structures such as white matter, gray matter, and hippocampus (a brain region involved in learning and memory) also increased in size over time. This increase in brain volume clearly shows that environmental factors (e.g., nutrition, education, social), and not just genetic factors, influence brain size.

The researchers thought that a larger brain volume, which signifies brain health,  might be protective against Alzheimer's disease. And that this could explain why the percentage of people (the incidence) of Alzheimer's disease and dementia has gone down over time.

From Medical Xpress: Human brains are getting larger: That may be good news for dementia risk

A new study by researchers at UC Davis Health found human brains are getting larger. Study participants born in the 1970s had 6.6% larger brain volumes and almost 15% larger brain surface area than those born in the 1930s. ...continue reading "Human Brains Are Getting Larger Over Time"

After reports that life expectancy for Americans was down in 2021, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) just released a report that in 2022 the life expectancy has once again increased.

The key finding in the report was that life expectancy for the U.S. population in 2022 was 77.5 years. This is an increase of 1.1 years from 2021. It increased for both males and females in 2022, but there is still a life expectancy gap between them. For males, life expectancy increased 1.3 years from 2021 to 74.8 in 2022. For females, life expectancy increased 0.9 year to 80.2 in 2022.

Heart disease and cancer remain the top 2 causes in 2022 (same as in 2021), while deaths from COVID-19 dropped from #3 in 2021 to #4. "Unintentional injuries" (e.g., accidents, drug overdose, homicide) is now #3 (it was #4 in 2021).

Excerpts from the CDC NCHS Data Brief No. 492, March 2024: Mortality in the United States, 2022 (pdf version) and the CDC page: Mortality in the United States, 2022

Key findings - Data from the National Vital Statistics System
  • Life expectancy for the U.S. population in 2022 was 77.5 years, an increase of 1.1 years from 2021.

...continue reading "Life Expectancy For US Population Increased in 2022"

Women have been outliving men for more than a hundred years. But a recent study found that this gap in life expectancy has been widening for more than a decade. This gap is now 5.8 years. Life expectancy (combined for both men and women) was 78.8 years in 2019 (pre-Covid 19), but was 76.1 years in 2021.

Why is this gap widening? The main reasons for men's life expectancy decreasing are Covid-19 and opioid overdoses. Other reasons are suicide, accidents (unintentional injuries), heart disease, and alcoholic liver disease.

On the other hand, the gap may be shrinking since the development of Covid vaccines and better treatments, as well as widely available overdose treatments (Naloxone).

From Science Daily: US men die 6 years before women, as life expectancy gap widens

We've known for more than a century that women outlive men. But new research led by UC San Francisco and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health shows that, at least in the United States, the gap has been widening for more than a decade. The trend is being driven by the COVID-19 pandemic and the opioid overdose epidemic, among other factors. ...continue reading "Life Expectancy Gap Between Men and Women Is Widening"

The studies finding health harms from ultra-processed foods keep coming. Ultra-processed foods are food products manufactured with all sorts of ingredients (additives) not normally found in our kitchens. Examples of such ingredients are: emulsifiers, carrageenan, mono- and diglycerides, soy lecithin, polysorbate, cellulose, colors, titanium dioxide, high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oils, dextrose, whey protein, nitrates, flavors (artificial and natural), colors, etc.

A large review of studies (none of which were affiliated with companies producing ultra-processed foods) found that eating ultra-processed foods are linked to over 30 health harms. Some of the health harms had especially strong associations: early death, death from heart disease (cardiovascular disease), type 2 diabetes, adverse sleep outcomes, wheezing, and obesity. In general, the more ultra-processed foods one ate, the higher the risk for harms.

Bottom line: Read ingredient lists, and try to avoid ultra-processed foods. Even foods such as cereals can have one that is ultra-processed (a formulation of ingredients that result from industrial processes) next to one that only has natural real ingredients without any additives.

From Medical Xpress: Consistent evidence links ultra-processed food to over 30 damaging health outcomes

Consistent evidence shows that higher exposure to ultra-processed foods is associated with an increased risk of 32 damaging health outcomes including cancer, major heart and lung conditions, mental health disorders, and early death. ...continue reading "Over 30 Health Harms Associated With Ultra-Processed Foods"

Another recent study found numerous health benefits in persons following an intermittent fasting-like diet for 3 months. It resulted in changes in blood and liver markers indicating a lower risk for several diseases (e.g., diabetes), and it reduced biological age 2.5 years.

Researchers found that following a diet that mimics fasting 5 days, then a normal diet 25 days for 3 monthly cycles improve a number of cardiometabolic risk factors such as reduced insulin resistance and other pre-diabetes markers. It also decreased abdominal fat and liver fat, and improved immune system functioning.

What did they eat during the 5 fasting-like days? They ate plant-based, low-calorie, and low-protein foods such as vegetable-based soups, energy bars, energy drinks, chip snacks, chamomile tea, and a supplement providing high levels of minerals, vitamins, and essential fatty acids. The foods were prepackaged and provided by an outside company to ensure the diet was followed.

But more importantly, the participants didn't really fast the 5 days - they just really cut back on calories, and ate plant-based foods. In other words, this type of diet is much easier to follow than a total fast, especially for several months. After the 5 days, the participants resumed eating their normal diet for the next 25 days.

From Medical Xpress: Fasting-like diet lowers risk factors for disease, reduces biological age in humans: Study

Cycles of a diet that mimics fasting can reduce signs of immune system aging, as well as insulin resistance and liver fat in humans, resulting in a lower biological age, according to a new USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology-led study. ...continue reading "A Five Day Fasting-Mimicking Diet Has Health Benefits"

Tai Chi Credit:Wikipedia

It turns out that doing the series of slow moving movements called Tai Chi reduces blood pressure more than vigorous aerobic exercise. This traditional Chinese exercise also has other benefits: it improves flexibility and balance, as well as cardiovascular and respiratory function.

A recent study found that doing the slow gentle movements and postures of Tai Chi (often called meditation in motion) for one year resulted in greater blood pressure reductions than aerobic exercises in persons with prehypertension. Half of a group of 349 adult volunteers were randomly assigned to Tai Chi for one hour 4 times per week for a year, while persons in the other group were randomly assigned to do aerobic exercises (including climbing stairs, jogging, brisk walking, and cycling) with the same frequency.

After one year, persons in both groups had lower blood pressure than at the start of the study, but in the Tai Chi group it was about 7.01 mmHg lower compared to 4.61 mmHg lower in the aerobic exercise group.

Prehypertension is blood pressure that is slightly higher than normal (between 120/80 and 139/89 mmHg), but not yet hypertension. In the study, the researchers also found that fewer persons from the Tai Chi group progressed to hypertension. A win-win.

The researchers of this study concluded that Tai Chi is a safe, moderate-intensity, mind-body exercise, which is suitable for persons of all ages and physical conditions. By the way, other studies also found that doing Tai Chi reduces blood pressure - as early as 12 weeks.

From NPR: Tai chi reduces blood pressure better than aerobic exercise, study finds

Tai chi, a traditional, slow-moving form of Chinese martial art, is known to increase flexibility and improve balance. Now, new research suggests it's better than more vigorous aerobic exercises for lowering blood pressure in people with prehypertension. ...continue reading "Study Found Tai Chi Reduces Blood Pressure Better Than Aerobic Exercises"

There has been medical debate over whether taking a daily multivitamin supplement has any benefits. Well, a third large study says YES - taking a daily multivitamin slows age-related memory loss and cognitive aging in older adults (60 years and older).

The researchers estimate that a daily multivitamin slowed cognitive aging the equivalent of 2 years when compared to persons not taking a multivitamin.

From Science Daily: Third major study finds evidence that daily multivitamin supplements improve memory and slow cognitive aging in older adults

By 2060, according to the Alzheimer's Association, nearly one in four Americans will be in an age bracket at elevated risk of cognitive decline and Alzheimer's disease unless interventions can help preserve cognitive function before deficits begin. ...continue reading "Study Finds Multivitamins May Slow Memory Loss In Older Adults"

We all know cigarette smoking is bad for our health (for example, higher rates of heart disease, respiratory disease, and cancer), but it also has an effect on our brains. Yup. Research shows it's associated with a decrease in brain size (volume)!

The researchers found that while all levels of daily smoking was associated with a decrease in brain volume, heavy smoking was associated with an even greater decrease in brain size (volume). This is a dose-response relationship.

By the way, this strong association between a history of daily smoking and overall brain volume, gray matter volume, and white matter volume of the brain was also found in other studies.

They also found that even if you stop smoking, you don't get back that missing brain volume. But at least it'll stop further cigarette smoking shrinkage. The researchers point out that this could explain why smoking is linked to increased rates of age-related cognitive decline and Alzheimer's. Yikes!

From Science Daily: Smoking causes brain shrinkage, study finds

Smoking shrinks the brain, according to a study by researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. The good news is that quitting smoking prevents further loss of brain tissue -- but still, stopping smoking doesn't restore the brain to its original size. Since people's brains naturally lose volume with age, smoking effectively causes the brain to age prematurely, the researchers said. ...continue reading "Smoking and Shrinking of the Brain"

Americans take a lot of prescription drugs, so many that it has reached historic highs. 6.3 billion prescriptions were filled in 2020! According to a recent study, it appears that the number of prescription drugs a person takes over the life span will only increase.

Research conducted by Jessica Y. Ho at Penn State University found that persons born in 2019 could be expected to take prescription drugs for about half their lives: 47.54 years for women and 36.84 years for men. Also, the number of years individuals can expect to take 5 or more drugs has increased substantially.

Some of the big increases in prescription drug use are from statins, antihypertensives, and antidepressants. There are ethnic and racial differences in prescription drug use, with non-Hispanic Whites taking the most.

From Science Daily: Americans will spend half their lives taking prescription drugs, study finds

An American born in 2019 will spend a larger share of their lifetime taking prescription drugs than being married or receiving an education, according to new research by Jessica Ho, associate professor of sociology and demography at Penn State. She found that American males will spend approximately 48% of their lives taking prescription drugs. The number jumped to 60% for females. ...continue reading "Americans Take Record High Numbers of Prescription Meds, and This Is Projected to Increase"

There is tremendous interest in how to live a long and healthy life. This means trying to avoid getting diseases that so many suffer from as they age, such as diabetes, heart disease, and dementia. What diets are best? What kind of lifestyle?

NPR published a recent article about 7 daily habits linked to living a longer, healthier life, using information from Dan Buettner's work on blue zones. Scientific research supports the importance of these habits, especially good nutrition (for example, the Mediterranean diet) and physical activity.

The blue zones are communities throughout the world in which there are a lot of centenarians (people living to 100 years or more). What is important is that the people in these communities are aging with good health, and leading active and fulfilling lives - without dementia, and not in nursing homes.

The diets vary from place to place, but all avoid fast foods and highly processed foods. Instead, a lot of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes (beans), and nuts are eaten. Little meat. Food is cooked at home. By the way, this type of diet is associated with a good gut microbiome, and generally a good gut microbiome goes with good health.

Unfortunately, these blue zone areas are now fading, due to changes in lifestyles  - fast food, etc. But a few other places are stepping up, trying to make living spaces healthier and incorporating what has been learned about health and longevity - for example, Singapore.

Bottom line: Research shows a diet rich in plant-based foods (whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes), plenty of sleep, lots of movement (physical activity), and a sense of purpose in life are all important in aging well.

Excerpts from correspondent Allison Aubrey article at NPR: 7 habits to live a healthier life, inspired by the world's longest-lived communities

At a time when life expectancy in the U.S. has dipped and diet-related disease is a leading cause of death, it's no wonder that Dan Buettner's decades-long exploration of centenarians who thrive in the longest-lived communities on Earth is attracting lots of attention. ...continue reading "Some Habits For Living A Longer and Healthier Life"