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So many of us seem to not get enough sleep, and then there are those that sleep and sleep. But .. it seems the sweet spot for sleep and our brain health (cognitive performance) is about 7 to 8 hours - at least according to a large study from Canadian researchers at Western University. People reporting typically sleeping 4 hours or less a night had the most impairments in how they performed on a variety of cognitive tests - equivalent to aging 8 years.

Reasoning, verbal skills, and overall cognition were impaired by less than 7 hours or more than 8 hours of sleep. But not short term memory. Actual age of the person made no difference on the results - everyone performed best at 7 to 8 hours of sleep. (Volunteers completed a series of 12 tests online which measured a broad range of cognitive abilities.) By the way, about half of the 10886 persons participating in the study reported typically sleeping 6.3 hours or less a night. Not enough. The good news is that just one night of sleeping a little more than the usual too little had a positive effect on cognitive abilities - thus cognitive improvement. From Science Daily:

World's largest sleep study shows too much shut-eye can be bad for your brain  ...continue reading "What Is Optimal Amount Of Sleep For Our Cognitive Processes?"

The results of a recent study suggested that walking 4 hours or more a week or 2 to 3 hours of moderate physical activity may have a (slight) protective effect of reducing stroke severity in persons who get a stroke. The study, which was conducted in Sweden, found that persons who were physically more active before their stroke and were younger in age were more likely to have a mild stroke (rather than a moderate or severe stroke). This finding was an association (didn't prove it).

But ...the majority of persons participating in the study - whether they exercised or not before the stroke - had mild strokes, and a minority in all of the groups had moderate or severe strokes. 73% of physically inactive people, 85% of those with light physical activity, and 89% of  those who had engaged in moderate physical activity before their strokes had mild strokesResearchers found that light (walking or a similar activity for at least 4 hours per week) and moderate physical activity (2 to 3 hours per week) were equally beneficial. From Medical Xpress:

People who walk just 35 minutes a day may have less severe strokes

People who participate in light to moderate physical activity, such as walking at least four hours a week or swimming two to three hours a week, may have less severe strokes than people who are physically inactive, according to a study published in the September 19, 2018, online issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology. 

...continue reading "Could Physical Activity Reduce Stroke Severity?"

Once again, recent studies found that eating real food (fish) is associated with health benefits, but taking a supplement (omega-3) isn't. Similar findings about fish versus omega-3 fatty acid supplements have also been found in other studies. Fish contains omega-3 fatty acids and many other nutrients - more than are found in supplements.

The first study is a Cochrane review of studies already done. The review provides good evidence that taking long-chain omega 3 (fish oil, EPA or DHA) supplements does not benefit heart health or reduce risk of stroke or death from any cause. In other words, people take the supplements believing it helps heart (cardiovascular) health - but the evidence isn't there.

On the other hand, a large study of people living throughout the US and followed for 16 years found an association with higher fish consumption and lower risk of early death, and death from cardiovascular disease. Additionally, in men - those eating the most fish (as compared to those eating the least) had a lower risk of death from cancer, respiratory disease, and liver disease, and in women - lower risk of death from Alzheimer's disease. However, eating fried fish didn't have those health benefits. The group eating the most fish had 8 oz or more fish per week, while the group having the least had less than 2 oz. per week.

From Science Daily:  Omega 3 supplements have little or no heart or vascular health benefit

New evidence published today shows there is little or no effect of omega 3 supplements on our risk of experiencing heart disease, stroke or death.  ...continue reading "Health Benefits Linked to Eating Fish, Not Supplements"

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People are excited over the possibility that herpes viruses could be behind Alzheimer's disease and whether it could be prevented with the use of antiviral medication. This is because currently there is no way to prevent or treat the disease.The June 22, 218 post discussed the amazing recently published study done in Taiwan. The study looked at more than 33,000 individuals and found that those with herpes simplex infections (HSV) had a 2.56-fold increased risk of developing dementia. But individuals that were treated with anti-herpetic (antiviral) medications for a newly diagnosed HSV outbreak had a decreased risk of dementia - that the risk dropped back down "to baseline". [Note that whether it was the person's initial infection or reactivation of an existing infection is unclear.]

The researchers' conclusion was that the antiviral medication reduced the risk of senile dementia (Alzheimer’s disease) by keeping the herpes infection in check. Now studies need to be done to see if this association holds. But the amazing results, along with studies that also implicate other herpes viruses, led to a commentary being published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease about the tantalizing possibility of a simple treatment or prevention - perhaps even a vaccine. This commentary highlights the excitement among some (many?) researchers. The authors of the commentary mention that currently "over 130 studies, using a variety of approaches, support a major role for HSV1 in Alzheimer's Disease". Even if it's not all cases of Alzheimer's disease, but only a portion - it would still be incredible.

From Science Daily: Herpes linked to Alzheimer's: Antivirals may help

A new commentary by scientists at the Universities of Manchester and Edinburgh on a study by Taiwanese epidemiologists supports the viability of a potential way to reduce the risk of Alzheimer's disease. When the Taiwanese authors looked at subjects who suffered severe herpes infection and who were treated aggressively with antiviral drugs, the relative risk of dementia was reduced by a factor of 10. 
...continue reading "Excitement Builds Over Possible Herpes Virus Link to Alzheimer’s disease"

Full fat dairy products better (healthier) than low-fat or non-fat dairy products? A number of studies have recently suggested this (herehere), and now another one. A large study (from Univ. of Texas, Houston School of Public Health) actually measured different kinds of fatty acids in almost 3000 adults over 65 years of age during a 22 year period. The researchers found no link with whole fat dairy and death (from any cause), coronary heart disease, and stroke. In fact, one type of fatty acid (heptadecanoic acid) found in dairy fat was associated with lower death rate from heart disease, especially death from strokes.

Just note that US nutritional guidelines are still sticking to encouraging low-fat or non-fat dairy foods. Eh... From Science Daily:

New research could banish guilty feeling for consuming whole dairy products

Enjoying full-fat milk, yogurt, cheese and butter is unlikely to send people to an early grave, according to new research by The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth). The study, published today in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found no significant link between dairy fats and cause of death or, more specifically, heart disease and stroke -- two of the country's biggest killers often associated with a diet high in saturated fat. In fact, certain types of dairy fat may help guard against having a severe stroke, the researchers reported. 

...continue reading "Is Full Fat Dairy Healthier Than Low Fat or Non-fat Dairy?"

Over the last few decades, the mainstream theory of Alzheimer's disease (amyloid deposits build up in the brain) and medical treatments (drugs) just hasn't led anywhere. Nothing has worked to stop Alzheimer's disease. But evidence is building for an alternative view - that microbes in the brain are leading to the development of Alzheimer's disease (here and here). Now new compelling evidence from studies implicates several strains of herpes virus in Alzheimer's disease. At least one study has suggested herpes zoster, others the common herpes simplex, while other studies suggest other herpes strains. Which means that treatment could perhaps involve anti-viral drugs! (Wouldn't it be great if that works???)

In one study researchers found that human herpes virus DNA and RNA were more abundant in the brains of those diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease and that "abundance correlated with clinical dementia scores" - meaning the more of it, the sicker the person was. And the two viruses they found to be most strongly associated with Alzheimer's, HHV-6A and HHV-7, were not as abundant in the brains of those with other neurodegenerative disorders.

The article mentions another recently published study from Taiwan. This amazing study looked at more than 33,000 individuals in Taiwan and found that patients with herpes simplex infections (HSV) may have a 2.56-fold increased risk of developing dementia. And they found that the use of anti-herpetic (antiviral) medications in the treatment of HSV infections was associated with a decreased risk of dementia - that the risk dropped back down "to baseline". The conclusion was that the antiviral medication reduced the risk of Alzheimer’s by keeping the herpes infection in check. Yes! Finally, a way foreward in this horrible disease.

Scroll down and read what one group of researchers says: "Our model right now is that it’s not just a single microbe, but a disturbance in the brain microbiome that can lead to Alzheimer’s disease.”

From A. Azvolinsky's article at The Scientist: Herpes Viruses Implicated in Alzheimer’s Disease

The brains of Alzheimer’s disease patients have an abnormal build up of amyloid-β proteins and tau tangles, which, according to many researchers, drives the ultimately fatal cognitive disease. This theory is being amended to a newer one, which posits that microbes may trigger Alzheimer’s pathology ...continue reading "Herpes Viruses and Alzheimer’s Disease"

Once again, a study linked a person's diet with the chances of getting age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Macular degeneration is a leading cause of vision loss in Americans 60 years and older, and it has no cure. The study (conducted at the University of Bordeaux, France) found that people who eat a Mediterranean diet are less likely to develop advanced age-related macular degeneration. The study was presented at a conference (not a medical journal), but it builds on other research with similar findings.

What is the Mediterranean diet? It is a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes (beans), nuts, seeds, olive oil, and fish. The diet is a good source of fiber, omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (especially fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines), and of vitamin C, vitamin E, lutein, zeaxanthin, zinc, and copper. Lutein and zeaxanthin are carotenoids found in green, yellow and red vegetables. From Medscape:

Mediterranean Diet Linked With Lower Incidence of Advanced AMD

People who eat a Mediterranean diet are less likely to develop advanced age-related macular degeneration (AMD). That's according to research presented May 1 at ARVO 2018, the annual meeting of the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology, in Honolulu, Hawaii.  "Higher adherence to the Mediterranean diet was associated with a 39% reduced risk of developing advanced AMD. These results highlight that eating a healthy diet, such as a Mediterranean-type diet, may help to limit progression to advanced AMD," Dr. Benedicte M. J. Merle of the University of Bordeaux, France, and her colleagues write in their abstract.  ...continue reading "Mediterranean Diet Linked to Lower Risk of Macular Degeneration"

Walk, walk, walk for health - and the faster, the better. The message from a  large study (in Britain and Scotland) is that walking is associated with healthier, longer lives - but if you walk at a fast pace (brisk walking), the effects are even better. Walking at an average or brisk pace reduced death (from any cause) by 20% to 24% - as compared to those walking slowly. Heart disease deaths were reduced by  21% to 24% at an average or brisk pace - when compared to those walking at a slow pace.

Bottom line: average walking pace is good, but getting your heart rate up (and getting a little sweaty) while walking briskly is better. By the wayr, the researchers did not find any effect of walking speed on cancer deaths.  ...continue reading "Walking At a Brisk Pace Is Best For Health"

Another study has found that the most common vitamin and mineral supplements (multivitamins, vitamin D, calcium, and vitamin C), don't offer hoped for health benefits, and may actually carry some risks. This latest study was a review of other studies, and examined whether specific vitamins or minerals would  lower the risk of cardiovascular disease (including heart attacks and strokes) and death from any cause (referred to as all cause mortality"). [Posts discussing other research finding problems with supplements.]

In general, the review of studies of popular supplements (multivitamins, vitamin D, calcium, and vitamin C) show no consistent benefit (no significant effect) for the prevention of cardiovascular disease, heart attacks, or stroke, nor any lowering of death (all cause mortality). On the other hand, folic acid and B-vitamins with folic acid, B6, and B12 reduced stroke (folic acid showed a 20% reduction in stroke), but niacin and antioxidants were associated with an increased risk of death from any cause (10% increase). But overall the effects in the studies were small. Vitamin D did not show any benefits in reducing death, but the researchers pointed out that many vitamin D studies are now under way, and the results of vitamin D studies so far are mixed (e.g. 16 showing positive effects from vitamin D, 17 showing a more favorable effect in the control group, and 10 neither).

On the other hand, the researchers stressed that eating a well balanced diet has lots of health benefits and is recommended by the U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. Three dietary patterns are frequently discussed as beneficial: 1) a healthy American diet (sometimes called a "prudent diet") low in saturated fat, trans fat, and red meat, but high in fruit and vegetables, 2) a Mediterranean diet, and 3) a vegetarian diet. All 3 of these diets are rich in fruits and vegetables (which means increased fiber), are relatively rich in vitamins and minerals, and meet Dietary Reference Intake guidelines.  ...continue reading "Study Finds No Benefit From Most Supplements"

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The controversy over whether people should be supplementing with vitamin D or not, and whether there are health benefits or harms from vitamin D supplementation is heating up. While observational studies have found health benefits with higher vitamin D blood levels, the beneficial results have generally not held up (or mixed findings) when people were randomly assigned to groups (randomized clinical trials). Most agree that blood levels of under 20 ng per mL is too low, but an issue is what is a desirable blood level? Should healthy people routinely supplement?

Having higher blood levels of vitamin D from sunshine appears to be good (it's the sunshine vitamin, after all). It's the taking of a vitamin D supplement that is now controversial and being debated. By the way, if one decides to take a vitamin D supplement, then the D3 form is desirable (rather than D2).

It was pointed out that a number of negative health effects can occur in those taking more than 4000 IU daily of vitamin D. For example, it may cause toxic effects such as renal impairment, hypercalcemia, or vascular calcification. In  2014, 3% of all U.S. adults and 6.6% of adults older than 60 years reported taking a vitamin D supplement of 4,000 or more IU per day. [See all vitamin D posts - most discuss observational studies finding benefits.]

The following are articles from Medscape (the medical site) and American Family Physician discussing recent research that is not finding health benefits with vitamin D supplementation, or mixed findings (e.g. one review found it may be protective in lowering death from any reason or from cancer; also reduce the number of upper respiratory infections)Therefore, some medical groups suggest that vitamin D screening is an unnecessary test, a waste of money,  and shouldn't be routinely done in healthy individuals. Note that many, many trials are going on right now to try to settle the vitamin D supplement issue (whether there are health benefits or not). ...continue reading "Mixed Findings In Vitamin D Supplement Studies"