Nuts and berries clean up the aging brain

August 31, 2010 by  
Filed under AGING

In Germany, there is a snack called “Studentenfutter” which can be translated into English as “students’ food”. It simply consists of different nuts, raisins and other dried fruit. There are lots of explanation as to how the snack got its name. One is that it is cheap and therefore a favourite among students on a tight budget. Another is that it is a very handy snack – packed in a little plastic bag that can fit in pockets of jeans and jackets– and is therefore ideal for on-the-go students. My favourite explanation, however, is that the snack gives the much needed extra brain power for students during the exams period.

Recent evidence from research studies indicates that there is some truth to the 3rd explanation. It seems that certain compounds found in nuts and berries may have positive effects on the brain. These compounds supposedly “activate the brain’s natural “housekeeper” mechanism that cleans up and recycles toxic proteins.” The result is the slowing down of memory loss and mental decline that comes with aging.

According to Dr. Shibu Poulose, a researcher at the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Agriculture Research Service’s Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging (source WebMD):

“The good news is that natural compounds called polyphenols found in fruits, vegetables and nuts have an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effect that may protect against age-associated decline.”

In aging brain tissue, waste products accumulate with time. Due to this build up, the brain cells that are supposed to clean up the waste become overactivated and can cause damage to healthy cells. The polyphenols in the berries, however, come to the rescue and restore normal cleaning up function. Poulose and his team of researchers demonstrated this in a study using mouse brain tissue.

Among the berries, blueberries, strawberries and acai berries are especially rich in polyphenols whereas walnuts are the champions among nuts. This is rather timely considering that it is the season for berries and nuts. The berries season is about to end and the nuts are about to fall.

However, polyphenols can also be found in other fruits and vegetables, especially those with deep red, orange, or blue pigments. Thus, even when the berries go out of season, we still have tomatoes to supply us with polyphenols the whole year round.

As to walnuts, the shelled nut closely resembles the brain, doesn’t it? At any rate, each time I see a walnut, I would remember that this nut is a good brain food and pop it into my mouth. Walnuts keep longer than berries and are available always in the supermarket.

So next time you find yourself forgetting something, maybe your brain just needs some cleaning up. And you know just what foods to eat to get the job done right.

Photo credit: wikicommons

Memory loss is not necessarily dementia

December 9, 2009 by  
Filed under ALZHEIMER'S

grandmothers_birthdayWhen we see an elderly person who is confused or incoherent, we tend assume it has something to do with senility or dementia. Loss of memory is not necessarily a sign of dementia and senility is not necessarily a sign of Alzheimer’s disease, even in the elderly. This is a comforting message from aging experts.

However, there can be other causes for memory loss. Stress is one. Side effects of medications are another. There are many more.

According to Mara Mather, reasercher on aging at USC:

“Memory loss is not always due to dementia and it’s not always due to aging… Stress has an impact on memory and long-term stress can diminish the size of the hippocampus and diminish memory abilities and it looks like to some extent that’s recoverable.”

In fact, there are many factors that can influence memory skills. Some of these are listed below (source:

  • Aging
  • Nutritional deficiency, e.g. deficiency in certain vitamins and minerals
  • Depression
  • Diseases and medical conditions such as diabetes or hypothyroidism
  • Oxygen deprivation of the brain, which can be cause by stroke, heart attack, or severe trauma
  • Structural abnormalities in or damage to the parts of the brain associated with memory formation
  • Free-radical damage.
  • Chemical poisoning, including consumption of alcohol, tobacco, and illicit drugs
  • Infections of the central nervous system (CNS) infections such as encephalitis, toxoplasmosis and neurosyphilis
  • Stress, emotional as well as physical
  • Sensory overload, e.g. when a person is trying to do too many tasks or worry about too many things at the same time, the brain is overloaded with information and cannot process short-term memories.
  • Low blood sugar
  • Genetic factors
  • Seizures, such as those related to epilepsy
  • Severe emotional trauma
  • Low estrogen levels in postmenopausal women

Thus, there is no reason to jump into conclusions about older people’s diminishing mental capacities. This could just well be temporary or “reversible” dementia due to one or more of the abovementioned factors. Instead, when signs of memory loss or confusion arise, we should first look at the possible factors involved. Is the person under mental or emotional stress? What sort of medications is the person taking? Family members and caregiver are also advised to talk to the patient’s doctor.

“To find the underlying cause of memory loss, your physician will obtain a detailed medical history, which documents the pattern, symptoms, and types of memory loss. He or she will also inquire about contributing factors that may worsen or trigger memory loss. A routine physical and detailed neuropsychological examination with a focus on memory function will be conducted. In addition, he or she will order several diagnostic tests.”

Photo credit: stock.xchng

Can caffeine reverse memory decline?

July 22, 2009 by  
Filed under ALZHEIMER'S

coffee-machineMornings aren’t the same without a cup of coffee in hand. Whether it may be a broadsheet you have in front of you or your computer monitor, hold that coffee cup nice and tight because a new research shows that coffee has more than just antioxidants under its belt of health benefits.

The research involved genetically modified aged mice that exhibit symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease being proportionally given an equivalent of five cups of coffee a day worth of caffeine. The results were astounding. The cognitive issues of the said mice were reversed, according to a report coming from the Florida Alzheimer’s Disease Researcher Center (ADRC) researchers lead by Dr. Gary Arendash.

Recently published studies show that caffeine is a very good inhibitor of the protein linked to the disease, based on test results from both blood and the brains of the mice that showed symptoms of Alzheimer’s. These studies are considered as a continuation of previous research conducted by the Florida ADRC team showing that introduction of caffeine during early adulthood inhibits the onset of cognitive problems in old age in mice genetically modified to develop the symptoms of Alzheimer’s.

55 mice were bred to exhibit dementia as they age, mimicking the symptoms of the said disease. Behavioral tests were then done to confirm the test mice aged18 to 19 months were showing signs of cognitive issues at an equivalent age of 70 human years. Half of the animals were given caffeine through their drinking water (test group) while the control group was given plain water. The test group mice took an equivalent of five cups of regular coffee every day. This is the same amount of caffeine you get from a large frap drink from your local coffee shop, or 20 soda cans or 14 cups of tea.

After two months of research, not only have did the caffeinated mice scored better on their tests measuring cognitive skills, researchers also have verified that the memory skills of the said mice were of the same level as to normal mice of younger age exhibiting no symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. The control mice showed very little or no difference at all with their memory skills.

Results also show a very significant decline (around 50% reduction) in the percentage of beta-amyloid, the protein responsible for the plaques on the brain, which when in abundance, is a classical sign of Alzheimer’s. Caffeine not only inhibits beta-amyloid but also suppresses inflammatory changes in the brain that lead to the high production of the said protein.

Promising as it may seem, questions always arise to clarify certain possible issues that may have been overlooked or questions that may lead to further knowledge or new discovery. Since it has been established that caffeine boost the memory of mice with Alzheimer’s, is it then safe to say that those that are exposed to caffeine from a very young age will do better in terms of memory? The researchers wanted to know if there would be any difference. To set things straight, another set of mice were given caffeine this time with the group being normal and is from young adulthood through old age. After a long research period, they collated the results for the control group and the caffeinated mice with both groups performing as well as the other.

“This suggests that caffeine will not increase memory performance above normal levels. Rather, it appears to benefit those destined to develop Alzheimer’s disease,” according to Dr. Arendash.

Though further, more rigorous research is needed, the use of caffeine has the great potential as a viable treatment for patients with Alzheimer’s disease. Caffeine is easily available and cheap. Give or take a couple of years from now, these new findings may be the start a new line of therapy and prophylaxis for Alzheimer’s. Caveat: do not forget that caffeine is not completely harmless. Excessive caffeine intake does come with health risks!

Photo credit: stock.xchng

Your brain needs good cholesterol, too!

June 11, 2009 by  
Filed under ALZHEIMER'S

brainIt is well-known that high blood cholesterol levels are not good for the heart. Is is also quite known that high levels of low-density lipoproteins (LDL) – the bad type of cholesterol – can build up and block arteries and adversely affect cardiovascular health.

What is not so well-known is the fact that low levels of high-density lipoproteins (HDL) – the good type of cholesterol – is linked to memory loss and increased risk for dementia. This is according to a study by European researchers.

It seems that cholesterol levels are important not only for heart health but for brain health as well.

The study followed up 3,673 people as part of the long-term Whitehall II study involving British civil servants. The results showed that low levels of HDL cholesterol are associated with diminished memory by age 60. No link was found between memory loss and levels of total cholesterol and triglycerides. The use of statins to manage cholesterol levels did not seem to have an effect.

According to lead author Dr. Archana Singh-Manoux of the French National Institute for Health and Medical Research (INSERM, France) and the University College London (UK)

“Memory problems are key in the diagnosis of dementia. We found that a low level of HDL may be a risk factor for memory loss in late midlife. This suggests that low HDL cholesterol might also be a risk factor for dementia.”

The mechanism behind this link between HDL cholesterol and dementia risk is not so clear but the following hypotheses are proposed:

  • HDL cholesterol blocks the formation of beta-amyloid.
  • HDL cholesterol may affect memory in relation to its role in maintaining vascular health.
  • HDL cholesterol could influence memory through its -inflammatory and antioxidant.

HDL cholesterol… serves several vital biological functions. It helps clear excess cholesterol from the blood; assists nerve-cell synapses to mature; and helps control the formation of beta-amyloid, the major component of the protein plaques found in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients.

Dementia usually occurs in people 65 years or older. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia. In the developed world where a large proportion of the population are elderly, dementia is becoming a major – and costly – health concern. The monitoring of HDL cholesterol (and not only LDL cholesterol!) should therefore be encouraged – for the heart as well as for the brain.

Photo credit: stock.xhcng

Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease

March 24, 2008 by  
Filed under ALZHEIMER'S

Research has shown that Alzheimer’s disease begins long before symptoms begin to manifest.  Therefore, you need to act sooner rather than later if you suspect that your loved one may be Battling the Monster, Alzheimer’s disease.

Here are a few reasons that you should make an appointment:

  1. Short term memory loss.  Forgetting information that has been learned very recently. This happens to the best of us at some point, but usually, we are able to recall the information. Whereas, the person in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease won’t recall recently learned information.
  2.  The inability to do a very simple and familiar task.  If your dad blanks out on how to shave, use the telephone or complete a simple task in the kitchen, then you might have cause for concern.
  3. Misplacing things.  Occasionally misplacing the keys or a purse is not cause for concern.  Putting the keys away in the bathroom closet, or the can opener in the bedroom is cause for concern.
  4. Lack of judgment.  This sometimes shows up driving or even something as simple as getting dressed.  If your grandmother wants 5 layers of clothing on and its 80 degrees or she wants to go sleeveless outside in the snow, then something is wrong. 
  5. Confusion and disorientation.  We all forget the day or date from time to time or get turned around in terms of directions, so that is not what I’m talking about.  If your loved one forgets where he is, where she lives, what year it is or is living in the distant past. Then, you need to get that checked out.
  6. Becoming easily irriated/mood swings.  My mom, who was always very gentle, once grabbed a young child in church because he was running past her.  THAT was way out of character for her.  On the other hand, everyone gets annoyed our upset from time to time, so don’t assume cousin Ann has Alzheimer’s because she is tired and irritable and doesn’t feel like being around a lot of people.

NOTEDehydration, severe urinary tract or other infections and thyroid problems can cause symptoms that mimick Alzheimer’s disease. 

There are other symptoms as well, but if you recognize any of these, then you’ll want to make an appointment with the family doctor, who may refer you to one or more specialists to confirm or deny your suspicions and rule out other conditions.

You sometimes have to wait to get in to see the doctor, so begin keeping a journal or log of behaviors that you consider suspect.  This will help you to get a handle on how often “strange” things are happening.  In addition, it will enable you to be more prepared and specific as you talk with the doctor.

Some of the information came from Alzheimer’s Association and The Help Guide (Alzheimer’s section).

Fighting The Good Fight – Promoting Alzheimer’s Awareness Month

October 26, 2007 by  
Filed under ALZHEIMER'S

By Sarah Shepherd

In 1901, a German physician was presented with an unusual and never before seen case. His patient was a 51 year-old woman who seemed to be suffering from mental problems. In addition to having several bouts of memory loss, she accused her husband of being unfaithful. She had difficulty understanding simple things that we being said to her and she could no longer perform certain actions. The physician attempted to treat her as best he could, but never before seeing these symptoms together in one person proved to be a major stumbling block. He monitored her as these symptoms intensified, and within a few years she was completely bedridden. Less than 5 years later, the woman was dead. The causes of death were pneumonia and infections caused by bedsores. The doctor published his findings after the autopsy, and in 1910 it was suggested by a fellow physician that the disease be named after this German doctor. The debilitating brain disorder was henceforth known as Alzheimer’s Disease.

According to the National Alzheimer’s Association, a person is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s every 72 seconds. The disease affects the brain by destroying brain cells. This leads to memory loss and causes problems with things such as motor skills and thinking processes. The cause of Alzheimer’s has yet to be determined. Even worse, no cure has been found. Approximately 5 million Americans are living with this disease, which is unfortunately a fatal illness. It is estimated that over 500,000 people are living with early onset Alzheimer’s, which affects people under the age of 65.

Every one of us knows someone or knows of someone who has been touched by Alzheimer’s disease. Whether it is a person suffering directly, or a family member dealing with the illness of a relative, it affects millions of people every day across the world. Not only is this disease absolutely devastating for those suffering from it, but usually more so for the family and friends of the person affected. It’s for this reason that Alzheimer’s Awareness Month was created.

Commonly recognized during November, Alzheimer’s Awareness Month brings attention to a disease that desperately needs it. Because there is no cure and the cause has not yet been found, Alzheimer’s Awareness Month serves as a yearly opportunity to raise money for research. Just like Breast Cancer Awareness month, there are several walks that are sponsored across the country, along with many other events. The money raised not only assists in research, but also in treatment. In addition to the fundraising opportunities that Alzheimer’s Awareness Month brings, it also serves as a time to recognize those living with the disease and those caring for them. For every person that lives with the disease there are several more that care for them, whether they are family members, social workers, or health care staff. In addition to honoring the living and their caregivers it also serves as a time to remember those that have lost the battle.

Promoting Alzheimer’s Awareness Month can be done in several ways. Promotional t-shirts and caps can be purchased to be worn at walks. Since Alzheimer’s is usually associated with the color white, it’s not uncommon for white awareness bracelets to be worn in remembrance of those who have been lost. The most common purchasers of Alzheimer’s Awareness Month products are people that are directly involved in the cause, but that doesn’t have to be the case. Choosing to buy promotional awareness bracelets or t-shirts is an excellent way for businesses to align themselves with this worthwhile cause. Stores can create a “Gift with Purchase” program. For example, if a customer spends $50, they receive an Alzheimer’s Awareness t-shirt. Awareness bracelets are still extremely popular, so they can be offered to customers by keeping them available at the register. Try selling them for two dollars, and donate $1 to an Alzheimer’s foundation. Not only will you be raising money for a worthy cause, you will be showing your customers that your business cares about important issues.

Sarah Shepherd is a e-marketing specialist for Motivators, Inc., a Long Island based promotional products distributor. The company’s website, Motivators Promotional Products boasts over 30,000 e-commerce enabled promotional products and features an Alzheimer’s Awareness section.

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NOTE: The contents in this blog are for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as medical advice, diagnosis, treatment or a substitute for professional care. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health professional before making changes to any existing treatment or program. Some of the information presented in this blog may already be out of date.