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Blog posts tagged with 'cognitive function'

Vitamin B12 Linked to Cognitive Health in Aging Adults

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Vitamin B12 Linked to Cognitive Health in Aging AdultsVitamin B12 plays a key role in the normal functioning of the brain and nervous system. Found in foods like fish, meat, and dairy, it is an important part of a balanced nutritional diet. However due to our modern methods of processing foods, we may not be getting the right amount of B12 through our daily food intake. This is cause for concern as a recent observational study, conducted at Tufts University, has linked B12 levels to cognitive health in older adults.

Effects of Low B12

Researchers analyzed and tested data from 549 men and women who took part in a separate study concerning heart health, the average age of the participants was said to be 75. The subjects were divided into five groups based on their blood levels of B12. Focusing on cognitive test scores from the Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE) over an eight-year period, the study revealed that the two lowest B12 groups were more prone to cognitive health concerns. The study showed that cognitive effects of even mild vitamin B12 deficiency may affect a larger proportion of seniors than was previously thought. A majority of the test subjects were Caucasian women with at least a high-school level education. While a link has been established there is still the question of causation. Researchers hope to expand tests to more diverse subject groups as well as investigate whether vitamin B12 deficiencies affect any particular cognitive skills.

Keeping Up Brain and Body Health

With more and more of these types of studies being released, the need for supplementing our daily diet has never been more essential. Getting the right amount of nutrients on a daily basis through food intake alone can be difficult, which is why supplementing meals with a multivitamin can provide the optimal amount of vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, and other nutrients needed to sustain a healthy lifestyle. Balance is always the key. Eating right, exercising at least 30 minutes a day, and supplementing our diet to fulfill the body’s nutritional needs can help us all make strides in the quest for good health.

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Bad Air Is Also Bad for the Brain

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Bad Air Is Also Bad for the BrainMost people living in or near heavily polluted areas often worry about the consequences of poor air quality on their lungs. What they may not realize is that bad air can also affect brainpower. According to data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Health and Retirement Study, older adults living in areas of high air pollution may experience decreased cognitive function and brain health. This doesn’t come as much of a surprise considering that in recent years, air pollution has also been linked to cardiovascular and other circulatory health challenges.

Study Results Consistent Across the Board

In a sample size of 14,793 white, African American, and Hispanic men and women aged 50 and older, people living in areas with high amounts of fine particulate matter (particles that are small enough to deposit in the lungs and the brain) scored lower on cognitive tests designed to assess word recall, knowledge, language, and orientation. Results remained consistent regardless of factors such as age, ethnicity, and existing cardiovascular or respiratory health conditions. The researchers found that as the amount of particulate matter exposure increased, scores on cognitive function tests decreased accordingly. A 10-point increase in particulate matter, for example, was associated with a 0.36 point drop in cognitive function score, which was roughly equal to aging the brain by three years.

Older Adults at Greater Risk from Bad Air

Although an exact cause was not given as to how air pollution directly affected brain health, Jennifer Ailshire, Ph.D., stated that “…older adults are particularly vulnerable to the hazards of exposure to unhealthy air.” Dr. Ailshire conducted the study and is a National Institute on Aging postdoctoral fellow in the Center for Biodemography and Population Health and the Andrus Gerontology Center at the University of Southern California. While there’s not much you can do to control outdoor air pollution, short of moving to a less polluted area, you can still be mindful of your respiratory—and cognitive health—by monitoring the local Air Quality Index. You can also clear the inside of your home of dust mites, mould, and pet dander since particulate matter can also accumulate indoors.

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Sound Body Equals Sound Mind

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Sound Body Equals Sound MindPhysical exercise has a far bigger impact on supporting brain health in older people than previously thought. While seniors have been encouraged for years to do “brain activities” such as crossword puzzles, Sudoku, and reading to support cognitive function and memory, a new study points out that it’s physical exercise that helps protect aging brains from shrinking.

Brain Size Affects Cognitive Health

Brain shrinkage is typical with age and scientists have linked various degrees of shrinkage to its effects on memory and cognitive function.

In the study, which was published in the journal, Neurology, 700 people living in the UK were questioned about the leisure and physical activities they engaged in. When their brains were scanned three years later, those who were more physically active had larger volumes of gray and white brain matter. By comparison, those who engaged in nonphysical activities still showed signs of brain shrinkage despite engaging in their hobbies regularly. Regular physical activity also reduced the incidence of white matter lesions, which have been found to adversely affect memory and thinking.

Similar Study Supports Findings

A similar study showed that aerobic exercises—such as walking or jogging—were also more beneficial than nonaerobic exercises like stretching and toning. In this study, 120 individuals were split into two equal groups, with one group performing 30-45 minutes of moderate, aerobic exercise three times a week while the other group did stretching and toning exercises. MRI scans a year later revealed that the nonaerobic exercise group showed signs of shrinkage in a region of the brain known as the hippocampus whereas the hippocampus was larger in the exercise group. If you’ve been resting on your laurels waiting for yet another reason to start exercising for your overall health, the evidence above should hopefully convince you. So get up and start moving!

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Snooze So You Don’t Lose Out on Health Benefits

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Snooze So You Don’t Lose Out on Health BenefitsFor some people, 24 hours isn’t enough to accomplish all the things they need to do in a day, so they often forego a good night’s sleep in order to work, work, work. The satisfaction of accomplishment, however, is fleeting compared to the actual harm they could be inflicting on their health. Sleep helps mind and body heal and rejuvenate, and when this important health aspect is ignored it invites the possibilities of all sorts of health challenges. If you’re one of these people, stop ignoring your body’s desire for rest. When you feel tired, that’s your body’s signal to you that it needs to wind down and recuperate for the day. A good night’s sleep can help you feel more refreshed—and you might be surprised at some of the other side benefits.

Sleep Supports the Mind

If you’re learning a new skill, such as a new language, sleep can actually strengthen the memories or practice skills that you’ve acquired. It’s a process called consolidation. If you’ve practiced a set of repetitive skills during the day, something about the sleep process helps reinforce these memories or learned skills so that you have an easier time recalling them the next day. The more you practice and the more rest you get in between, the greater your recall ability. Being well-rested can also spur your creativity if you’re struggling to find a solution to a problem. It can also sharpen your attention span and boost your mood if you’re stressed or anxious because your blood pressure lowers when you’re asleep.

Rest Benefits the Body

Besides having emotional and mental perks, sleep is also physically good for you. People who get less sleep tend to have higher levels of C-reactive protein, which is linked to inflammation. Inflammation can lead to cardiovascular, blood sugar, and joint health challenges. However, most experts agree the simple act of getting more sleep reduces your risks significantly. Researchers at the University of Chicago also found that well-rested dieters tended to lose more fat than their sleep-deprived counterparts, who shed muscle mass instead. Sleep deprivation also causes hunger to kick in, which can be even more detrimental if you’re trying to manage your weight.

Something to Sleep Over

The next time you’re thinking about pulling an all-nighter, take a moment to consider the pros and cons. Is depriving your body and mind of rest really worth the cost of your health? If you feel your body getting tired, don’t resist it—your body will thank you for it.

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Can Stress Affect Memory?

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Can Stress Affect Memory?Stress can often make one feel flustered and forgetful, but can the long-term effects lead to advanced cognitive impairment and poor memory? That’s what researchers in the U.K. are attempting to find out in an ambitious study that seeks to find new ways of preserving cognitive function and memory. The study will monitor 140 individuals who already have mild cognitive impairment over 18 months. The scientists will take regular blood and saliva samples, looking for stress markers to determine if stress has any effect on their condition.

Traumatic Events Are Potential Stress Factors

Previous studies indicate that midlife stress may increase risk of cognitive impairment. A Swedish study conducted on about 1,500 women found that subjects who had repeated periods of middle-age stress had a 65% higher risk of developing cognitive impairment. Animal research led Scottish scientists to theorize that it’s the release of certain hormones during stress that interfere with normal brain function. Traumatic events—such as the death of a loved one—put people through greater amounts of stress, which could possibly trigger the release of greater amounts of hormones that impair brain function.

Finding Out the Cause Before the Solution

Scientists hope that by understanding the physical and psychological symptoms that accelerate cognitive impairment, it will help them manage the condition in patients more effectively. Because the human brain is so complex, any single or combination of symptoms may be early indicators of greater risk ahead. But by watching out for these red flags now, we may be able to apply this useful knowledge in helping thousands of others in the near future.

References:

  • Roberts, M. “Role of Stress in Dementia Investigated.” BBC News. Jun 2012. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-18577326.
  • Johansson, L. et al. “Midlife psychological stress and risk of dementia: a 35-year longitudinal population study.” Brain. 2010. 133 (8):2217-2224.

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