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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"

Nice to hear that a new study found that across the lifespan, human brains are capable of producing new neurons (neurogenesis). Neurons are nerve cells, what we popularly call brain cells, and are the basic working unit of the nervous system. The human brain contains about 100 billion neurons.

The researchers did find some age differences (e.g. with age there was less neuroplasticity or the brain's ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections, and a decline in angiogenesis - the development of new blood vessels). But still... the findings are reassuring. Interesting how the researchers did the study. They examined 28 brains (specifically, newly formed neurons and the state of blood vessels within the hippocampus) right after death from previously healthy people (aged 14 to 79), who died suddenly.

While they found age differences, they did not find gender differences. The researchers summarized that healthy older subjects without cognitive impairment (meaning they were mentally healthy), neuropsychiatric disease, or treatment (e.g. depression drugs or psychotropic drugs) display preserved neurogenesis (produce new neurons) throughout life. From Science Daily:

Older adults grow just as many new brain cells as young people

Researchers show for the first time that healthy older men and women can generate just as many new brain cells as younger people.

There has been controversy over whether adult humans grow new neurons, and some research has previously suggested that the adult brain was hard-wired and that adults did not grow new neurons. This study, to appear in the journal Cell Stem Cell on April 5, counters that notion. Lead author Maura Boldrini, associate professor of neurobiology at Columbia University, says the findings may suggest that many senior citizens remain more cognitively and emotionally intact than commonly believed. ...continue reading "Some Good News About The Aging Brain"

This recent study adds to the body of knowledge of what negative major life events (resulting in lots of stress, anxiety, worry) does to a middle-aged person's health. Negative life events could be an interpersonal conflict (e.g. divorce), a death in the family, financial hardship, and serious medical emergencies. Using MRIs, the researchers found that each fateful life event (FLE), especially those that involve interpersonal relationships, accelerates brain aging about .37 years (about a third of a year). And the more negative life events, the bigger the effect. From Science Daily:

Negative fateful life events and the brains of middle-aged men

Conflict, a death in the family, financial hardship and serious medical crises are all associated with accelerated physical aging. In a new study, researchers at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine found that such negative fateful life events -- or FLEs -- appear to also specifically accelerate aging in the brain

Writing in the journal Neurobiology of Aging, a research team, led by senior author William S. Kremen, PhD, professor of psychiatry and co-director of the Center for Behavior Genetics of Aging at UC San Diego School of Medicine, found that major adverse events in life, such as divorce, separation, miscarriage or death of a family member or friend, can measurably accelerate aging in the brains of older men, even when controlling for such factors as cardiovascular risk, alcohol consumption, ethnicity and socioeconomic status, which are all associated with aging risk. 

Specifically, they found that on average, one FLE was associated with an increase in predicted brain age difference (PBAD) of 0.37 years. In other words, a single adverse event caused the brain to appear physiologically older by approximately one-third of a year than the person's chronological age, based upon magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). 

The researchers studied 359 men, ages 57 to 66 years old, participating in the Vietnam Era Twin Study of Aging (VETSA). Researchers asked participants to tally a list of life-changing events over the past two years .... All participants underwent MRI exams and further physical and psychological assessments within one month of completing the most recent self-reports. The MRIs assessed physiological aspects of the brain, such as volume and cortical thickness -- a measure of the cerebral cortex or outer layer of the brain linked to consciousness, memory, attention, thought and other key elements of cognition.

Hatton said exposure to chronic stress has long been associated with biological weathering and premature aging, linked, for example, to oxidative and mitochondrial damage in cells, impaired immune system response and genomic changes. The study's authors said their findings provide a possible link between molecular aging and brain structure changes in response to major stressful life events. They do note that the study was a snapshot of a narrow demographic: older, predominantly white, males. It is not known whether females or other ethnicities would show similar findings.

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Of course! The results of this study made perfect sense to me - that losing your wealth or savings in late middle-age is such a mental shock ("negative wealth shock") that it increases the risk of death for any reason ("all cause mortality") tremendously over the next 20 years. About 50% increased risk of death. For example, if you have to live off your savings after you get laid off or can't work due to illness, and perhaps even lose your house to foreclosure, is STRESSFUL beyond belief. Almost incomprehensible to anyone who has not personally gone through it.

On top of that, a person may then not be able to afford to go to the doctor, even if there is a problem, once they're financially stressed. And of course they may never financially recover because the "negative wealth shock" happened at an older age (the people were 51 to 61 at the start of the study).

Other research conducted at time of the Great Recession showed significant associations between negative wealth shocks and short-term health changes - including increased risk of depression, anxiety, suicide, impaired cardiovascular function, and substance abuse. And now we know that long-term there is an increased risk of death. From Science Daily:

Losing your nest egg can kill you

A sudden loss of net worth in middle or older age is associated with a significantly higher risk of death, reports a new Northwestern Medicine and University of Michigan studyWhen people lose 75 percent or more of their total wealth during a two-year period, they are 50 percent more likely to die in the next 20 years, the study found.  ...continue reading "Losing Your Wealth In Late Middle-Age and Increased Risk of Death"

The last post dealt with the link between highly processed food and increased risk of cancer. Now an interesting article written by Dr. Lisa Mosconi (Associate Director of the Alzheimer’s Prevention Clinic at Weill Cornell Medical College/New York -Presbyterian Hospital) refers to that study when discussing research about lifestyles (and especially diet) and later Alzheimer's disease.

It'll be interesting to see how this research plays out - is her approach stressing diet (and avoiding ultra-processed food and trans fats) and lifestyle correct or not? Much of what she says definitely makes sense and is supported by research, such as the negative health effects of chronic inflammation, and how eating actual, real foods has beneficial health effects. On the other hand, vitamin, mineral, and fish oil supplements generally don't show those health benefits (as she discusses here).

Currently there are a number of theories about causes of Alzheimer's disease (including the role of microbes), as well as a number of drug treatments that so far have gone nowhere. If Dr. Mosconi's research interests you, then read the interview she did in 2017. [In the interview she talks about the importance of exercise, intellectual stimulation, social networks, and the benefits of eating real foods rather than supplements. She recommends: drink water, eat fish, eat vegetables and fruit, eat glucose rich foods, and don't eat highly processed and fast foods.]  From Quartz:

The road to Alzheimer’s disease is lined with processed foods

Dementia haunts the United States. There’s no one without a personal story about how dementia has touched someone they care for. But beyond personal stories, the broader narrative is staggering: By 2050, we are on track to have almost 15 million Alzheimer’s patients in the US alone. ... It’s an epidemic that’s already underway—but we don’t recognize it as such. The popular conception of Alzheimer’s is as an inevitable outcome of aging, bad genes, or both.  ...continue reading "Ultra-Processed Foods and Alzheimer’s?"

A recent study published in BMJ (British Medical Journal) found a link between high consumption of ultra-processed food and higher rates overall of cancer, but also a higher risk of breast cancer. Specifically, a 10% increase in the proportion of ultra-processed foods in the diet was associated with a greater than 10% increase of overall cancer and 11% increase of breast cancer during the 6+ years of the study.

Alarmingly (because of the health implications), several surveys (in Europe, the US, Canada, New Zealand, and Brazil) have suggested that ultra-processed food products are now between 25 to 50% of calories eaten every day.

Ultra-processed food is food that is highly processed. It is food that is mass produced and packaged, as well as foods that have manufactured substances in them - such as hydrogenated oils (also contains trans fats), protein isolates, additives, preservatives, artificial or natural flavors, colors, nitrites (in processed meat), titanium dioxide (nanoparticles), etc. The food packaging can leach chemicals such as pthalates (endocrine disruptors). The list goes on and on and on. All of these things in ultra-processed foods may be involved in causing health problems, including cancer. They are typically also poorer nutritionally and higher in salt than unprocessed or minimally processed foods. These ultra-processed foods that are so popular are all around us - in fast food, in mass produced desserts and breads, packaged snacks, soups, cold cuts, margarine, frozen or shelf stable ready to eat meals, instant foods, sodas and drinks, etc.

On the other hand, unprocessed or minimally processed foods are fresh, dried, ground, chilled, frozen, pasteurised, or fermented foods such as fruits, vegetables, legumes (beans), rice, pasta, eggs, meat, fish, or milk. There are also “processed culinary ingredients”  which are salt, vegetable oils, butter, sugar, and other substances extracted from foods and used in kitchens to transform unprocessed or minimally processed foods into "culinary preparations" (meals). The study did NOT find any association with unprocessed, minimally processed, or processed culinary ingredients with cancer. Only with the ultra-processed food. Instead, the study found that higher consumption of “minimally/unprocessed foods” (and lower ultra-processed food) was associated with lower risks of overall cancer and breast cancer.

So an apple is unprocessed, and plain apple sauce made with just apples is minimally processed, while a packaged apple dessert with additives added is ultra-processed. Think of it as "transformed food". Also keep in mind that your beneficial gut microbes like unprocessed or minimally processed food - especially those high in fiber. You know - a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, seeds, nuts, legumes (beans).  ...continue reading "Ultra-Processed Food and Risk of Cancer"