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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"

Another important nutrient for brain health is magnesium. A recent study found that ingesting higher levels of magnesium from foods (dietary magnesium) is associated with better brain health and brain volume. Brains normally shrink a little with age, but ingesting higher levels of dietary magnesium resulted in less age-related shrinkage.

The researchers found that the effects were especially beneficial for postmenopausal women. It is important to note that all study participants had recommended or higher levels of magnesium intake from foods. No one had a magnesium deficiency. Recommended dietary allowances are 400–420 mg for men and 310–320 mg for women - but the results from this study suggest that ingesting even more from foods is better.

In other words, consider magnesium important for a healthy brain. Try to increase intake of magnesium rich foods. The researchers point out that recent studies suggest that dietary magnesium is associated with better cognitive function and may reduce the risk of dementia.

Foods rich on magnesium: pumpkin seeds, almonds, spinach, cashews, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, peanuts, shredded wheat cereal, quinoa, soymilk, black beans, edamame, dark chocolate, bread, whole wheat, avocado, potato, nuts, bananas.

From Medical Xpress: A higher dose of magnesium each day keeps dementia at bay

More magnesium in our daily diet leads to better brain health as we age, according to scientists from the Neuroimaging and Brain Lab at The Australian National University (ANU). ...continue reading "Magnesium Is Important For Brain Health"

Another large study found that eating a Mediterranean diet is beneficial to health - specifically, that it is associated with a decreased risk for dementia. As much as 23% lower (compared to those who didn't eat a Mediterranean style diet)! It didn't matter if a person had a genetic risk for dementia or not - diet was more important.

By the way, other studies also find that eating a Mediterranean style diet has benefits for the brain and body.

A Mediterranean style diet is one rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes (beans, lentils), nuts, seeds, herbs, spices, and olive oil. Some lean meat, especially chicken, and fish. This way of eating is high in fiber (good for health!). Try to avoid processed meats, highly processed foods, fast food, and hydrogenated oils. Eat less meat in general.

From Science Daily: Mediterranean diet associated with decreased risk of dementia

Experts at Newcastle University found that individuals who ate a Mediterranean-like diet had up to 23% lower risk for dementia than those who did not. ...continue reading "A Mediterranean Style Diet Is Associated With A Lower Dementia Risk"

Many people take laxatives to deal with constipation, but it may not be a good idea to take them long-term or frequently. New research links regular laxative use (most days of the week) with increased rates of dementia.

The study found that regularly using multiple types of laxatives or only osmotic laxatives had an increased risk of dementia over a ten year follow-up period. Osmotic laxatives (e.g., Miralax, polyethylene glycol, lactulose) draw water into the stool, making the stool softer and easier to pass.

However, using only other types of laxatives (stool softeners, stimulant, or bulk-forming) was not associated with dementia.

Some natural ways to treat constipation: drink more water, eat more fiber rich foods (e.g., fruits, vegetables), exercise or physical activity, drink coffee or tea.

From Science Daily: People who regularly use laxatives may have an increased risk of dementia

People who regularly use laxatives, a common treatment for constipation, may have more than a 50% increased risk of developing dementia than people who do not use laxatives, according to a study published in the February 22, 2023, online issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology. ...continue reading "Frequent Laxative Use Associated With Higher Risk of Dementia"

As we get older, we may notice that we're forgetting things, or we're having trouble remembering names, or... And we wonder if we're starting to "lose our mind" and developing dementia.

A recent study has good news - even in persons labeled as having Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI), 2 1/2 years later about half had improved and no longer fit the criteria of mild cognitive impairment. Back to normal! (Other studies have similar results.)

The big question is why do so many improve, and why do others get worse?

This study conducted by Columbia University researchers was part of a long-term study looking at aging in older adults (65 years old or older) and living in New York City (thus the study was "community based"). All 2903 participants (white, black, and Hispanic) did not have Mild Cognitive Impairment or dementia at the start of the study (the baseline), were followed for 6 years, and evaluated (including physical and neurological tests) every 18 to 24 months.

After an average 2.4 years follow-up after MCI diagnosis: 12.9% of individuals progressed to dementia, 9.6% declined in functioning (but did not meet the criteria for dementia), 29.6% continued to meet MCI criteria, and 47.9% no longer met MCI criteria. This last group was now "cognitively normal". (!!)

The  researchers found that the presence of the APOE4 gene (which increases the risk of Alzheimer's disease) and having more medical problems ("medical burden") increased the risk of MCI. On the other hand, more years of education, more leisure activities (e.g., reading, socializing, taking walks), and higher income decreased the risk of developing MCI. But MCI across several domains, being a carrier of the APOE4 gene, depressive symptoms, and antidepressant use increased the risk of progression to dementia

Bottom line: Older adults should try to be active, get exercise (walking counts!), have a healthy lifestyle, socialize, and be busy - it's good for mental health. Studies also find participation in arts, crafts, and using computers all lower the risk of older adults developing MCI.

From Medical Xpress: 'Mild cognitive impairment' in older age often disappears, study finds

A diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment (MCI) might worry an older adult, who could see it as a stepping stone to dementia. But a new study suggests one does not necessarily lead to the other.  ...continue reading "Mild Cognitive Impairment In Older Adults Can Improve"

Some good news - a recent study found that daily coffee and tea drinking is associated with lower rates of stroke and dementia. Just an association, not a definite cause and effect, but still... nice to hear some (more) good news for us coffee and tea drinkers.

Researchers analyzed data from a large group in the United Kingdom's Biobank (a large medical data base). The 365,682 participants (aged 50 to 74 years old) were followed for about 11 years. They found that drinking coffee and tea separately or in combination were associated with a lower risk of stroke and dementia. Coffee alone or in combination with tea was also associated with lower risk of post-stroke dementia.

Most interesting finding: Drinking 2 to 3 cups of coffee with 2 to 3 cups of tea daily was associated with a 32% lower risk of stroke and a 28% lower risk of dementia (when compared to those who do not drink coffee and tea).

How much was best in this study? Moderate amounts of coffee and tea consumption are best. Two to 3 cups of coffee per day or 3 to 5 cups of tea per day, or a combination of 4 to 6 cups of coffee and tea per day, were linked with the lowest rates of stroke and dementia.

From Science Daily: Coffee and tea drinking may be associated with reduced rates of stroke and dementia

Drinking coffee or tea may be associated with a lower risk of stroke and dementia, according to a study of healthy individuals aged 50-74 publishing Nov. 16 in the open-access journal PLOS Medicine. Drinking coffee was also associated with a lower risk of post-stroke dementia.  ...continue reading "Coffee and Tea Drinking Associated With Lower Rates of Stroke and Dementia"

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"

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?"

A recently published study found that a strong ability in languages may help reduce the risk of dementia. The study of 325 Roman Catholic nuns (75 years or older) in the United States found some differences in the 109 women (33.5%) who developed dementia later in life compared to those who didn't. They found that more years of education was protective. Those speaking 2 or more languages were less likely to develop dementia than women only speaking one language (35% developed dementia) with 4 or more languages the most protective (only 6% of these women developed dementia). However, speaking 2 or more languages did not significantly affect the age at onset of dementia.

But the strongest predictor of later developing dementia was written linguistic ability, especially "idea density". Idea density was viewed as the average number of ideas expressed per 10 written words.180 of the women provided autobiographical essays that they had written decades earlier (in early adulthood) and the researchers looked at the essays for idea density and grammatical complexity. The researchers suggested that written linguistic ability was a measure of "cognitive function" or brain health.

From Science Daily: What multilingual nuns can tell us about dementia  ...continue reading "Does Speaking Several Languages Lower the Risk of Dementia?"

Back in 2015 and 2016 some studies found a link between taking medicines that are anticholinergic and cognitive decline and dementia. Some examples of non-prescription anticholinergic medications are Chlor-Trimeton, Benadryl, Tavist, and Dimetapp. During this time a person also contacted me to report that his relative, who had Down's syndrome, had once participated in a study where he received cholinergic therapy, with the result that during the study he functioned better neurologically.

Meanwhile, I read several studies of older people that supported the result of a higher intake of foods with choline and better neurological functioning (e.g. verbal and visual memory).

A recent large study of men over a 4 year period found an association between a  higher intake of foods with choline (dietary choline) and better performance on several cognitive tests and lower risk of dementia. The research, which was conducted in Finland, found that the relationship seemed especially strong for a type of choline called phosphatidylcholine. Eggs (specifically the egg yolks) are a primary dietary source of phosphatidylcholine, and indeed, in the study, higher egg intake was associated with better performance on several measures, including verbal fluency, as well as lower risk of dementia.

Choline is an essential nutrient, found in some foods. Its role in the body is complex, but one of its roles is to produce acetylcholine, an important neurotransmitter for memory, mood, muscle control, and other brain and nervous system functions (NIH choline fact sheet). On the other hand, anticholinergic medications block the action of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine (which is involved with learning and memory). Anticholinergic medications include many common drugs, such as some antihistamines, sleeping aids, tricyclic antidepressants, medications to control overactive bladder, and drugs to relieve the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.

What should one do? First, make sure to eat some foods rich in choline, especially eggs. The researchers themselves say that "consuming an adequate amount of foods high in choline may be an easy, effective, and affordable way to maintain cognitive functioning". Good sources of choline are meat, dairy products, poultry, and eggs - and it appears that eggs (the egg yolks) are especially beneficial. Second, one should also try to avoid non-prescription and prescription medicines known to be anti-cholinergic. For example switch from allergy medicines diphenhydramine or chlorpheniramine (Chlor-Trimeton) to one that isn't anticholinergic. [See list.]

From Science Daily: Dietary choline associates with reduced risk of dementia  ...continue reading "The Choline In Eggs Is Beneficial For the Brain"