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A number of studies have found that a poor sense of smell in older adults is linked to health problems (especially Parkinson's disease and dementia) and death. Now a recent study found that a poor sense of smell in older adults is associated with an almost 50% increase in their risk of dying within 10 years—especially in individuals reporting good health. In other words, a poor sense of smell is an early sign of deteriorating health, even when it is not apparent yet to the person.

Researchers at  the Michigan State Univ. College of Human Medicine  followed 2,289 persons (aged 71 to 82) for 13 years. The generally healthy persons took a smell test of 12 common odors (e.g. onion, soap, gasoline, lemon, chocolate and rose) at the start of the study, and were scored as having good, moderate, or poor sense of smell. After 13 years 1,211 of them had died. The researchers then looked to see if there was any association between scores on the smell test and their risk of death at various points over the 13 years.

No association was found at the three- or five-year mark of the study. But those with a poor sense of smell had a 46 percent higher risk of dying by 10 years and a 30 percent higher risk by 13 years, when compared with the older adults with a good sense of smell. The researchers believe the risk was lower at 13 years because so many of the participants had already died - whether their ability to smell was initially good or poor. So how to interpret the study results? It appears that a poor sense of smell may be a sensitive early sign of deteriorating health, even when it is not apparent yet.

From Medical Xpress: Poor sense of smell associated with nearly 50 percent higher risk for death in 10 years  ...continue reading "Is A Poor Sense of Smell In Older Adults A Sign of Deteriorating Health?"

Many, many people wind up taking numerous courses of antibiotics at some points in life. Think of recurrent sinus infections or urinary tract infections or other infections. Or some conditions (e.g. dental or skin conditions) are treated with really long courses of antibiotics  New research (from 36,429 women participating in the long-running Nurses' Health Study)  found that women who take antibiotics over a long period of time during middle-age (40 to 59 years old), but even more so in late adulthood (60 years and over), are at increased risk of heart attack or stroke within the next 8 years.

How increased a risk for cardiovascular diseas? 28% or higher risk (compared to those who didn't take antibiotics)! But looking at the actual numbers it means: Among women who take antibiotics for two months or more in late adulthood, six women per 1,000 would develop a cardiovascular disease, compared to three per 1,000 among women who had not taken antibiotics.

Eight years was the length of the study, so it is unknown if the increased risk persists longer. The authors give a number of possible reasons for these results, but think it might be because antibiotic use results in gut microbial alterations. And the longer the antibiotic use, the more persistent the gut microbiome (microbial community) alterations. Other research studies supports this link (antibiotic use - gut microbe disruptions - increased cardiovascular disease). Another reason to eat in as healthy a manner as possible to feed beneficial gut microbes: a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, seeds, and nuts.

From Medical Xpress: Antibiotic use linked to greater risk of heart attack and stroke in women

Women who take antibiotics over a long period of time are at increased risk of heart attack or stroke, according to research carried out in nearly 36,500 women. The study, published in the European Heart Journal today, found that women aged 60 or older who took antibiotics for two months or more had the greatest risk of cardiovascular disease, but long duration of antibiotic use was also associated with an increased risk if taken during middle age (aged 40-59). The researchers could find no increased risk from antibiotic use by younger adults aged between 20-39.  ...continue reading "Link Between Antibiotics, Heart Attacks, and Stroke Risk In Older Women"

For a few years I've been noticing that studies of vitamin D have had mixed results for a number of medical conditions. A number of times initial studies found an association with low levels of vitamin D and a number of medical conditions, but follow up well-designed studies are just not finding the same results with vitamin D supplementation - or results have been mixed. Also, in some studies, what initially looked like vitamin D being protective for some cancers and multiple sclerosis, now looks like it's sunlight that is giving the protective results. In some cases, vitamin D levels are a proxy for sunlight exposure (the more sunlight exposure, the higher the vitamin D levels in the person). The following 6 studies recently published highlight this same trend of mixed results.

While vitamin D levels increased from high dose vitamin D, there was no change in bone bone mineral density (BMD) in older adults during the 12 months of the study. No adverse effects form the vitamin D supplementation was reported [the older adults received 12,000 international units (IU), 24,000 IU, or 48,000 IU once a month]. From Science Daily: Vitamin D supplements are of no benefit to the over 70s

There is little benefit for those over 70 taking higher dose vitamin D supplements to improve their bone strength and reduce the risk of falls, new research has revealed.

High doses of vitamin D (4000 international units) appeared more beneficial than low dose vitamin D (400 international units) supplements in advanced colorectal cancer patients. From Medical Xpess: High-dose vitamin D shows benefit in patients with advanced colorectal cancer

...continue reading "Recent Vitamin D Studies Have Mixed Results"

Another study found benefits from eating nuts - this time an association between frequently eating nuts and better brain functioning in older adults. The study was done in China and was part of a long-term nutrition and cognitive function study of 4822 adults (aged 55+ years). With aging, it is normal to have some decline in brain functioning, but the researchers said that high nut consumers had much less decline - that the more nuts consumed, the less decline (an inverse relationship).

The article below makes some grand claims ("could improve their cognitive function by up to 60 per cent") for a study that found an association between long-term nut consumption of more than 10 grams (about 1/8 cup) daily and cognitive health, but this doesn't prove it. Perhaps people who eat nuts also eat other foods or do other things that are beneficial for brain functioning. But ... the good news is that eating nuts frequently appears to be beneficial. So eat and enjoy.

By the way, peanuts are not nuts - they are legumes (also beans and peas) - but they have numerous health benefits, and were counted as nuts in this study. Common tree nuts are cashews, almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, pecans, macadamia nuts, pine nuts, pistachios, chestnuts, lichee nuts, and Brazil nuts. [See all posts on health benefits of nuts.]

From Science Daily: A nutty solution for improving brain health

Long-term, high nut consumption could be the key to better cognitive health in older people according to new research from the University of South Australia.  ...continue reading "Another Reason To Eat Nuts Frequently"

A recently published study attempted to compare countries to determine at what age does the average person feel like they are 65 years old - that is, at what age do they experience the typical health problems of a 65 year old (age-related diseases). We all generally want to live a healthy long life. But the reality is that most people will develop 1 or more health-related conditions or diseases as they age, with perhaps both physical and mental deterioration. The researchers looked at both among world countries - chronological age and the onset of age-related diseases and conditions (out of 92 conditions). As expected, when people have the health problems of an "average 65 year old" varies tremendously between countries.

The US didn't do so well: "At 68.5 years, the United States ranked 54th, between Iran (69.0 years) and Antigua and Barbuda (68.4 years)." Japan did the best - there 76 year olds have the same level of health problems as an "average" 65 year old. These findings match earlier research looking at worldwide populations, which found that no matter how long a person lives - about 1/8 of their life will be spent unhealthy or disabled, typically in the decade before death.

From Science Daily:  Wide variations in how well or poorly people age

A new study reveals wide variations in how well or poorly people age. A 30-year gap separates countries with the highest and lowest ages at which people experience the health problems of a 65-year-old, according to a new scientific study. Researchers found 76-year-olds in Japan and 46-year-olds in Papua New Guinea have the same level of age-related health problems as an 'average' person aged 65.  

These negative effects include impaired functions and loss of physical, mental, and cognitive abilities resulting from the 92 conditions analyzed, five of which are communicable and 81 non-communicable, along with six injuries. The studies and additional information are available at http://www.healthdata.org.   ...continue reading "At What Age Do You Feel 65?"

Once again a study found benefits from exercise - specifically that regular exercise is better for the brain and for thinking skills (for "executive function"). Executive function is a person's ability to regulate his or her own behavior, pay attention, manage new information and unexpected challenges, to plan, organize, and achieve goals. Executive functioning can decline in older adults - "age-related declines". So it's definitely beneficial to prevent or slow down a decline in thinking skills.

In this study 132 individuals (aged 20 to 67 years) living in New York City were either randomly assigned to a stretching group or an aerobic exercise group for 6 months. They were given a number of tests (at the start, at 3 mos, and at 6 mos.) to measure executive function, memory, IQ, etc. After 6 months the aerobic exercise group had a number of benefits (compared to the stretching group): they reduced their BMI (body mass index), they increased the cortical thickness in a part of their brain (this is good), and they had improved executive function thinking. The researchers found that the aerobic exercise showed more benefit to older adults than the younger adults.

How much did the aerobic group exercise? The individuals had 4 sessions a week of aerobic exercise (stationary cycling, treadmill, elliptical machine) which consisted of 10 to 15 minutes of warm-up/cool down, and 30 to 40 minutes of exercise. Note that at the start of the study all persons were healthy, sedentary non-exercisers - with "below median aerobic capacity". Meaning that there is hope for all of us to benefit from regular exercise whether a young adult or over 60.

For those persons that dread going to a gym or spend money for exercise equipment  - you don't need it! Just get out and walk briskly, or ride a bicycle, climb stairs regularly - in other words, move! The goal is to get your heart pumping. From Science Daily -

Exercise may improve thinking skills in people as young as 20

Regular aerobic exercise such as walking, cycling or climbing stairs may improve thinking skills not only in older people but in young people as well, according to a study published in the January 30, 2019, online issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology. ...continue reading "Aerobic Exercise, Thinking Skills, and the Brain"

New research is published every day, but only some studies are big research stories or game-changers. The following are what I consider some of the most memorable studies of 2018 – some in a good way, but some of the others have left me with a sense of horror. I think there will be follow-up research, so keep an eye out for more on these important topics.

Are we heading toward a time in the not so distant future when all men are infertile? (Due to exposure to all the endocrine disruptors around us.) Will All Men Eventually Be Infertile? This was posted September 5, 2018.

Researchers are now seriously investigating and finding evidence that microbes may be causing Alzheimer’s disease. This approach is rapidly finding support in the medical field, and may lead to possible ways to treat or prevent the disease. Possible Herpes Virus Link to Alzheimer’s Disease was posted July 13, 2018, and Herpes Viruses and Alzheimer's Disease on  June 22, 2018.

Type 2 Diabetes May Be Reversed With Weight Loss was posted August 10, 2018. This study and an earlier similar study from 2016 found that losing over 30 pounds over a short period can reverse type 2 diabetes - 46% in the 2018 study and 60% (in people who had it less than 10 years) in the earlier study.

More and more evidence is accumulating that certain diets are anti-inflammatory. Especially beneficial are diets rich in fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, legumes (beans), and whole grains - which also have a lot of fiber. This is exciting research because chronic low-grade inflammation is linked to a number of chronic diseases (heart disease, cancer, etc.). Fruits, Vegetables, and Whole Grains Lower Inflammation – posted August 1, 2018.

[Related to this last topic is one of the most eye-opening studies I have ever read on how what one eats has a quick effect on gut microbes and health of the gut (including inflammation of the colon): Changing Diet Has Big Effect On Colon Cancer Risk – posted April 28, 2015.]

Another study finding more benefits of exercise was recently published in the journal Neurology. The study by researchers at Duke University found that in older adults who were already experiencing  cognitive (thinking) problems, but did not have dementia - that after just 6 months of exercise they showed improvements in thinking. What were their original thinking problems? The individuals had difficulty concentrating, making decisions, or remembering, but it was not severe enough to be diagnosed as dementia. However, these persons were considered at risk for progressing to dementia.

The 160 individuals in the study were 55 years or older (mean age 65), mainly women, evenly divided between whites and minorities, were sedentary (didn't exercise), and had heart (cardiovascular) disease or were at risk for heart disease. They were randomly assigned to one of 4 groups: 1) aerobic exercise (with no dietary changes), 2) DASH diet (with no exercise), 3) DASH diet plus exercise, and 4) the control group, who had no dietary or exercise changes - they just received some educational phone calls. The study lasted 6 months, and there were no drop outs.

In the study, the aerobic exercises were done 3 times per week: 10 minutes of warm up exercises followed by 35 minutes of continuous walking or stationary cycling. The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension or DASH diet is a heart healthy diet that emphasizes eating fruits, vegetables, whole grains, as well as fish, poultry, beans, and nuts. It stresses lowering the intake of salt (sodium), sweets, sugar sweetened beverages, and fatty foods (both trans fats and saturated fats). [Note that in many ways it's similar to the Mediterranean diet with its emphasis on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, seeds, nuts, and lowering intake of meat. Studies find cognitive benefits from the Mediterranean diet.]

The six months of exercising improved thinking skills called executive function - in both the exercise alone or exercise + DASH diet group. The largest improvements were in the exercise + DASH diet group (as compared to the control group, which actually showed decline in functioning). Executive function is a person's ability to regulate their own behavior, pay attention, organize and achieve goals, and was measured in this study with a group of cognitive tests (a "standard battery of neurocognitive tests"). These executive function improvements did not occur in the DASH diet alone group or the control group. The study found no improvement in memory or language fluency in any of the groups. The exercise alone, DASH diet alone, and the combined exercise and DASH group had other health benefits by the end of the study, for example they lowered their risk factors for heart disease. Other improvements: the exercise groups had improvements in insulin levels, and the DASH groups decreased their intake of blood pressure medicines.

To illustrate how amazing these results are: at the start of the study (baseline) all participants scored as if they were in their early 90s on cognitive tests - as if they were on average about 28 years older than their actual chronological age! Then at the end of 6 months, the persons in the exercise + DASH diet showed an improvement of almost 9 years on the tests. In contrast, the control group showed an approximately 6 month worsening performance. When researchers looked at physical markers of the exercisers, they found that physical improvements and improvements in heart disease risk factors (e.g. losing weight, lowering blood pressure) were correlated with executive functioning improvements.

Other studies have found related findings, such as higher physical activity and a Mediterranean diet is associated with lower levels of dementia. The researchers point out that there is growing evidence that combining several lifestyle factors (e.g., exercise, not smoking, a healthy diet, lowering salt intake) and not just exercise alone, has the best results for better cognitive functioning among older adults. Bottom line: eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, seeds, nuts and get exercise. Walking briskly, gardening, housework, walking up stairs - it all counts.  ...continue reading "Can Exercise and Dietary Changes Help Older Adults With Thinking Problems?"

A recent study adds to the list of health reasons to try to avoid type 2 diabetes if at all possible, such as making lifestyle changes (e.g. lose weight if overweight, improve diet,  exercise). Earlier studies found that the brain atrophies (decreases in volume) with type 2 diabetes, and that the presence of type 2 diabetes doubles the risk of dementia in older age. Yikes!

Similarly, Australian researchers in the recent study found that type 2 diabetes in older individuals is associated with decline in verbal memory and verbal fluency over a five year period, but the findings suggest that this may start in midlife.  This is because at the start of the study those with type 2 diabetes already showed signs of greater brain atrophy than those without type 2 diabetes. The type 2 diabetes group had "poorer cognitive function" at the start of the study, and then they continued to decline over the 5 year study time, but not at any greater rate than individuals without diabetes. In contrast to the decline in verbal fluency over the 5 year period in the diabetes group, the non-diabetes group actually showed an slight increase in verbal fluency each year.

Of the 705 persons in the study, the average age of the type 2 diabetes group was 68.2 years, while the non-diabetes group was 72.5 years - so can see that the diabetes group was generally younger. [Note that the brain shrinks a little as we age, and it's a normal part of aging, but you want to minimize it. The more "youthful" the brain, the better for cognitive functioning.

From Science Daily: In older people, type 2 diabetes is associated with a decline in brain function over 5 years, study shows

New research published in Diabetologia (the journal of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes [EASD]) shows that in older people living in the community, type 2 diabetes (T2D) is associated with a decline in verbal memory and fluency over 5 years ...continue reading "Type 2 Diabetes and the Brain"

Another reason to eat fruits and vegetables daily - cognitive and memory functioning in later life. A large US study of 27,842 men found that a higher intake of fruits, vegetables, and orange juice for many years is linked to a lower risk of poor cognitive functioning in later years of life (70s and beyond). The study specifically looked at subjective cognitive function - a measure of earliest changes in cognitive functioning, including memory. This is the stage before "mild cognitive impairment". The study started in 1986 when the average age was 51 years, and continued till 2012. The men studied were all health professionals (e.g. dentists)

What was a high intake of fruits and vegetables? For vegetables: about 5.7 servings per day (while the lowest intake was 1.7 servings per day). For fruit: high intake was 3.1 servings per day (vs lowest intake was .5 servings per day). For fruit juice (orange juice): high intake was 1.5 servings per day (vs lowest intake was .1 servings per day). A serving of fruit is considered one cup of fruit or ½ cup of fruit juice. A serving of vegetables is considered one cup of raw vegetables or two cups of leafy greens.

The researchers found that green leafy vegetables, carotenoid-rich vegetables (esp. tomatoes and peppers), cantalope, berries, and orange juice to be especially protective. They point out that many antioxidant nutrients and bioactive substances (including vitamins A,B, C, and E, carotenoids, flavonoids, and polyphenols) are all found naturally in vegetables, fruits, and juices. These are thought to reduce brain oxidative stress, improve cognitive performance, and to prevent neuronal damage. In other words, all good things for the brain. From Science Daily:

Orange juice, leafy greens and berries may be tied to decreased memory loss in men

Eating leafy greens, dark orange and red vegetables and berry fruits, and drinking orange juice may be associated with a lower risk of memory loss over time in men, according to a study published in the November 21, 2018, online issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.  ...continue reading "Eat Fruits And Vegetables Every Day!"