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Negative Thoughts And Alzheimer’s Risk

People who regard the prospect of aging negatively are more likely to develop brain changes linked to Alzheimer’s disease than those who have a more positive outlook. On the plus side, changing those downbeat views may help reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s. The findings that views of aging can influence Alzheimer’s come from a Yale study that looked at healthy individuals enrolled in the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging. The researchers elicited the participants’ views on aging and followed up years later with MRIs - and in some cases brain autopsies - to see if a person’s outlook on aging correlated with brain changes associated with Alzheimer’s. The MRIs showed a greater decline in the volume of the hippocampus, the brain area that is key to memory, among people whose views of aging were negative than among others in the study. The brain autopsies showed a significantly greater number of amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles - both brain changes indicating Alzheimer’s - in participants with negative views of aging. In some cases these views were expressed 28 years before the plaques and tangles were seen. Study leader Becca Levy, Ph.D., associate professor of public health and psychology, suggested that stress generated by negative views on aging might be responsible for the brain changes. Replacing negative beliefs with positive ones might help head off the impact of the pessimistic views, Dr. Levy said.


My Take? This is an interesting study. What it found about the outcome of negative views of aging squares with earlier findings about the health risks associated with pessimism. We know that pessimism has been linked to a higher risk of dying before age 65, while positive emotions - such as optimism - are associated with lowered production of the stress hormone cortisol, better immune function, and reduced risk of chronic diseases. We also know that optimism is at least partially learned, which suggests that Dr. Levy is right - it is possible to replace negative views with positive ones.  

Insulin Resistance and Alzheimer’s disease

Insulin is the hormone that facilitates the transport of blood sugar (glucose) from the bloodstream into cells for use as fuel. In healthy individuals it is secreted by the pancreas in response to the normal increase in blood sugar that occurs after a meal. With insulin resistance, the normal amount of insulin secreted is not enough to move glucose into the cells - thus the cells are said to be "resistant" to its action, and the pancreas is prompted to secrete higher amounts. This excess insulin drives the body to store fat and can lead to diabetes, a risk factor for heart disease. And new research suggests that insulin resistance may also increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Investigators at Iowa State University examined brain scans of 150 middle age adults whose average was 60 who showed no signs of memory loss. The scans were aimed at determining if study participants with higher levels of insulin resistance used less blood sugar in particular regions of the brain, especially those areas most susceptible to Alzheimer’s. If so, the brain would have less energy to deal with information and function. The results showed that insulin resistance was associated with significantly lower regional cerebral glucose metabolism, which in turn may predict worse memory performance. Based on their findings, the researchers noted that problems regulating blood sugar might affect cognitive function regardless of age. Even people with mild or moderate insulin resistance might have an increased risk for Alzheimer’s because they’re showing many of the same sorts of brain and memory relationships wrote lead researcher Auriel A. Willette, Ph.D. Fortunately, you can help restore normal insulin sensitivity with diet – emphasize low-glycemic index food – and exercise.

3 Ways to Prevent Alzheimer’s

Want to keep your brain healthy and ward off dementia? Try adding these three, simple steps to your daily routine. 

To help preserve mental function and protect against age-related cognitive decline including dementia and Alzheimer's disease, consider implementing these healthy lifestyle strategies:

  1. Get 30 minutes of physical activity per day. Regular physical exercise, specifically aerobic exercise such as walking at a quick pace, can help slow memory loss and improve mental function.
  2. Develop healthy habits in all aspects of life. Not smoking, drinking only in moderation, staying socially involved, managing stress, getting adequate rest, and cultivating a positive attitude and outlook have all been associated with a lowered risk of Alzheimer's.
  3. Keep an active mind. "Use it or lose it" applies to mental as well as physical health. Enjoy crossword puzzles, mind games, challenging reading, and take educational classes.


5 Warning Signs of Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s disease can be challenging to diagnose, especially in its early stages. Learn about five common signs that distinguish it from common forgetfulness.

Over 30 million people worldwide are living with Alzheimer's disease. Use this list to help to distinguish between the normal memory loss that accompanies aging and early signs of Alzheimer's disease. Talk with your physician if you or a family member is displaying any of these symptoms:

  1. Memory loss that disrupts daily life. This common sign of Alzheimer's includes forgetting important dates, events and recently learned information, as well as repeatedly asking for the same information and relying on others for completion of previously routine tasks.
  2. Planning and problem solving challenges. Common examples are taking a long time to complete familiar, simple tasks such as developing a plan, working with numbers, following directions (such as a recipe) or keeping track of monthly bills.
  3. Familiar tasks become unfamiliar. It may be difficult to complete daily, routine tasks such as driving to a familiar location, reciting much-used phone numbers, or remembering the rules of favorite games.
  4. Confusion about time or place. Losing track of dates, where you are or how you got there, and the general passage of time without recognition is a sign of Alzheimer's.
  5. Trouble understanding visual images, difficulty reading, judging distance, determining color or contrast, and confusion as to what is reflected in a mirror may affect some people with Alzheimer's.

Walnuts to Slow Alzheimer’s

Eating a few walnuts a day may help reduce the risk of Alzheimer's and even slow the progression of the disease, at least in mice. A new study from the New York State Institute for Basic Research in Developmental Disabilities found that adding walnuts to the diets of mice with the mouse version of Alzheimer's boosted the animals' learning skills, memory, reduced anxiety and improved motor development. The amount of walnuts added to the mouse diet was the equivalent of a human portion of one ounce to one and a half ounces per day. The researchers performed this study following laboratory findings that walnut extracts showed activity against the oxidative damage caused by amyloid protein, the major component of amyloid plaques characteristic of Alzheimer's disease. The investigators said that the high antioxidant content of walnuts may have helped protect the mouse brain from the degeneration seen with Alzheimer's. The study also suggested that adding walnuts to their diet delayed the onset or prevented Alzheimer's in the mice.

Hold the Bacon…and the Fries

The iconic elements of fast food, bacon and French fries have long been vilified, and new research suggests that chemicals formed in foods cooked at high heat, called advanced glycation end products (AGEs), may set you up for memory and cognition problems later in life. We have known for some time that AGEs are linked to inflammation and premature cell aging. The latest on their harmful effects comes from a study enrolling 93 adults over age 60, showing that insulin resistance and cognitive issues were more common among those with high blood levels of AGEs than they were among study participants with low levels of these compounds. In addition, mice given a diet of foods high in AGEs had increased levels of beta amyloid plaques in their brains compared to mice fed foods with lower AGEs. Earlier research has shown that diets high in saturated fats have also been linked to the build up of these plaques, which are a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease. What we don’t know yet is whether giving up bacon and fries - and burgers and fried chicken - can prevent or reverse the course of dementia.

Helen Vlassara et al, “Oral glycotoxins are a modifiable cause of dementia and the metabolic syndrome in mice and humans,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, DOI10.1073/pnas.1316013111

What Are You Doing to Sharpen Your Brain? (Poll)

A recent Q&A discussed vitamin E and it's health benefits, especially on the brain: Does Vitamin E Halt Alzheimer's Disease? Check out the article and tell us what you do to sharpen your brain.

Is Bad Cholesterol Linked to Alzheimer’s Disease?

Here’s another potential reason to watch your cholesterol levels. New research from the University of California, Davis, suggests that the cholesterol levels often associated with cardiovascular disease may play a role in Alzheimer’s disease as well. For the study, investigators measured the blood lipid levels of 74 seniors with normal to mildly impaired cognitive function. They also measured deposits of beta amyloid protein in their subjects’ brains with PET (positron emission tomography) scans and found that participants with higher levels of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and lower levels of HDL (“good”) cholesterol had higher levels of Alzheimer’s-related amyloid in the brain. High levels of LDL cholesterol have been considered a risk factor for the development of cardiovascular disease while high levels of HDL cholesterol are believed to protect the heart. Some earlier studies have suggested that drugs that lower LDL might protect against Alzheimer’s but results have been inconsistent. In the new study, no links were seen between amyloid levels and the use of cholesterol-lowering medication. The researchers wrote that the study doesn’t prove that cholesterol levels in the blood directly affect deposition of amyloid proteins. They suggested that high LDL levels could be predictive of vascular damage from small strokes that might play a part in amyloid deposition. In other words, high LDL could be an effect, rather than a cause, of another process that raises stroke risk. They concluded that their findings should be replicated in other studies to confirm the association between Alzheimer's and cholesterol.

Bruce Reed et al, “Associations between Serum Cholesterol Levels and Cerebral Amyloidosis,” JAMA Neurology, doi:10.1001/jamaneurol.2013.5390

Better Sleep and Alzheimer’s Risk

Amyloid plaques in the brain, a hallmark of Alzheimer’s, are associated with the number of hours an older adult sleepsHalf of older adults have symptoms of insomnia, which may put them at added risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health have found that amyloid plaques in the brain, a hallmark of Alzheimer’s, are associated with the number of hours an older adult sleeps and the quality of that sleep. The investigators used PET (positron emission tomography) scans of seniors’ brains to measure amyloid plaques. They also reviewed the sleeping problems described by participants in the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging. The study participants, whose average age was 76, reported sleep times ranging from more than seven hours to five hours or less. The researchers found that shorter sleep duration and poorer sleep quality were associated with a greater amount of amyloid plaque. Study leader Adam Spira, Ph.D. suggested that treating seniors for sleeping problems or helping them maintain healthy sleeping patterns may help prevent or slow the progression of Alzheimer’s. He noted that the results of this study don’t prove that poor sleep causes Alzheimer’s and said that more research is needed to examine whether sleeping problems alone contributes to or accelerates the disease.

Adam P. Spira et al, “Self-reported Sleep and β-Amyloid Deposition in Community-Dwelling Older Adults,” JAMA Neurology  doi:10.1001/jamaneurol.2013

What’s Your Main Source of Mental Exercise? (Poll)

A recent Q&A discussed using brain exercises as a way of warding off dementia and Alzheimer's disease: Can Brain Exercise Really Keep You Sharp? Check out the article and let us know what brain exercises you do for your mental health.