This post is for everyone out there with a loved one over the age of 50.
.New research shows that our lifestyle choices (nutrition and physical activity) have a powerful effect on age related cognitive health.
Translation: Senility is mostly preventable with diet and exercise.
And guess what?
The same lifestyle choices that have created an epidemic of obesity in the Western world are also responsible for much of the dementia in today’s senior citizens.
Here’s the science:
Researchers from the Taub Institute for Research on Alzheimer’s Disease and the Aging Brain found that maintaining steady blood sugar levels, even in the absence of disease (diabetes, metabolic syndrome) is an important strategy for preserving cognitive health.
For many of us, senior moments are a normal part of aging. Such lapses in memory, according to this new research, can be blamed, on rising blood glucose levels as we age.
Whether through physical exercise, diet or drugs, our research suggests that improving glucose metabolism could help some of us avert the cognitive slide that occurs in many of us as we age,” reported lead investigator Scott A. Small, M.D.
Although it is widely known that the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease cause damage to the hippocampus, the area of the brain essential for memory and learning, studies have suggested that it is also vulnerable to normal aging.
Until now, the underlying causes of age-related hippocampal dysfunction have remained largely unknown.
In previous studies, Dr. Small et al had discovered that decreasing brain function in the dentate gyrus region of the hippocampus is the main contributor of normal age related cognitive decline.
In this new study, researchers used medical imaging devices to “help us better understand the basic mechanisms behind hippocampal dysfunction in the aged.”
Their research looked at measures that typically change during aging, like:
- rising blood sugar,
- body mass index,
- cholesterol and
- insulin levels.
The research found that decreasing activity in the dentate gyrus only correlated with levels of blood glucose.
“Showing for the first time that blood glucose selectively targets the dentate gyrus is not only our most conclusive finding, but it is the most important for ‘normal’ aging- that is hippocampal dysfunction that occurs in the absence of any disease states. There have been many proposed reasons for age-related hippocampal decline; this new study suggests that we may now know one of them,” said Dr. Small.
Control your blood sugar and prevent senility
In this study, researchers found that as we age, a slow, chronic starvation of the brain appears to be one of the major triggers of Alzheimer’s disease.
When the brain doesn’t get enough glucose, “a process is launched that ultimately produces the sticky clumps of protein that appear to be a cause of Alzheimer’s”. During this process, a key brain protein (eIF2alpha) increases the production of an enzyme which, in turn, flips a switch that produces the sticky clumps of protein.
And what causes this reduction in blood glucose to the brain?
And how do we prevent cardiovascular disease?
But don’t take my word for it.
“This finding is significant because it suggests that improving blood flow to the brain might be an effective therapeutic approach to prevent or treat Alzheimer’s,” said Vassar, a professor of cell and molecular biology at the Feinberg School.
A simple preventive strategy people can follow to improve blood flow to the brain is getting exercise, reducing cholesterol and managing hypertension.
“If people start early enough, maybe they can dodge the bullet,” Vassar said.
For people who already have symptoms, vasodilators, which increase blood flow, may help the delivery of oxygen and glucose to the brain. It also is possible that drugs could be designed to block the eIF2alpha protein that begins the formation of the protein clumps, known as amyloid plaques.
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