“Good” cholesterol combats inflammation – AHA

Testing how well “good” cholesterol particles reduce inflammation may help predict who is at heightened risk to develop cardiovascular disease caused by narrowed arteries, according to research published today in the American Heart Association’s flagship journal Circulation.

Research Highlights:

  • The ability of HDL particles (commonly known as “good” cholesterol) to reduce inflammation in the cells that line blood vessels may help predict who is more likely to develop a heart attack or other serious heart-related event.
  • Gauging the anti-inflammatory capacity of HDL cholesterol may one day improve standard heart disease risk assessment.
  • The results may encourage greater attention to the function of HDL particles in addition to quantity of cholesterol within HDL in determining how to assess and reduce heart disease risk.
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Assessing levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, known as “good cholesterol,” are already a standard part of formulas used to predict cardiovascular risk. A new test of the anti-inflammatory function of HDL seems to provide additional information that is independent of the quantity of HDL. If the results are confirmed in broader populations and a test developed for clinical use, adding anti-inflammatory capacity to risk scores may improve risk prediction and help people take steps to protect themselves against heart disease.

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Masks, Ventilation Stop COVID Spread Better than Social Distancing – Study

A new study from the University of Central Florida (UCF) suggests that masks and a good ventilation system are more important than social distancing for reducing the airborne spread of COVID-19 in classrooms.

The research, published recently in the journal Physics of Fluids, comes at a critical time when schools and universities are considering returning to more in-person classes in the fall.

In the study, the researchers created a computer model of a classroom with students and a teacher, then modeled airflow and disease transmission, and calculated airborne-driven transmission risk.

“The research is important as it provides guidance on how we are understanding safety in indoor environments,” says Michael Kinzel, an assistant professor in UCF’s Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and study co-author.

“The study finds that aerosol transmission routes do not display a need for six feet social distancing when masks are mandated,” he says. “These results highlight that with masks, transmission probability does not decrease with increased physical distancing, which emphasizes how mask mandates may be key to increasing capacity in schools and other places.”

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Tony

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COVID-19 may have increased mental health issues within families – Study

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in early 2020, many families found themselves suddenly isolated together at home. A year later, new research has linked this period with a variety of large, detrimental effects on individuals’ and families’ well-being and functioning.

The study — led by Penn State researchers — found that in the first months of the pandemic, parents reported that their children were experiencing much higher levels of “internalizing” problems like depression and anxiety, and “externalizing” problems such as disruptive and aggressive behavior, than before the pandemic. Parents also reported that they themselves were experiencing much higher levels of depression and lower levels of coparenting quality with their partners.

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Mark Feinberg, research professor of health and human development at Penn State, said the results — recently published in the journal Family Process — give insight into just how devastating periods of family and social stress can be for parents and children, and how important a good coparenting relationship can be for family well-being.

“Stress in general — whether daily hassles or acute, crisis-driven stress — typically leads to greater conflict and hostility in family relationships,” Feinberg said. “If parents can support each other in these situations, the evidence from past research indicates that they will be able to be more patient and more supportive with their children, rather than becoming more harsh and angry.”

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Flu may play part in plaque-rupturing heart attacks – AHA

Getting a flu vaccine can reduce the risk of a common type of heart attack in people 60 and older, according to new research that suggests the virus plays a role in rupturing plaque.

In a study published Thursday in the Journal of the American Heart Association, researchers in Spain used data from five consecutive flu seasons and zeroed in on 8,240 people who had Type 1 heart attacks. They found flu and cold temperatures were each independently associated with an increased risk of that kind of heart attack, and flu shots could reduce that risk among people 60 and up.

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“Our results suggest influenza viruses play a major role in plaque rupture,” said study author Dr. J Alberto García-Lledó, head of cardiology at Hospital Universitario Príncipe de Asturias in Madrid. “The study reinforces the need to conduct prevention campaigns during cold waves and influenza seasons. The most important prevention tool we have is influenza vaccination.”

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Stress from work and social interactions put women at higher coronary heart disease risk

Psychosocial stress – typically resulting from difficulty coping with challenging environments – may work synergistically to put women at significantly higher risk of developing coronary heart disease, according to a study by researchers at Drexel University’s Dornsife School of Public Health, recently published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

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The study specifically suggests that the effects of job strain and social strain — the negative aspect of social relationships — on women is a powerful one-two punch. Together they are associated with a 21% higher risk of developing coronary heart disease. Job strain occurs when a woman has inadequate power in the workplace to respond to the job’s demands and expectations.

The study also found that high-stress life events, such as a spouse’s death, divorce/separation or physical or verbal abuse, as well as social strain, were each independently linked with a 12% and 9% higher risk of coronary heart disease, respectively.

The Drexel study used data from a nationally representative sample of 80,825 postmenopausal women from the Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study, which tracked participants from 1991 to 2015, to find better methods of preventing cancer, heart disease and osteoporosis in women. In the current follow-up study, Drexel researchers evaluated the effect of psychosocial stress from job strain, stressful life events and social strain (through a survey), and associations among these forms of stress, on coronary heart disease.

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How brain cells repair their DNA reveals ‘hot spots’ of aging and disease

Neurons lack the ability to replicate their DNA, so they’re constantly working to repair damage to their genome. Now, a new study by Salk scientists finds that these repairs are not random, but instead focus on protecting certain genetic “hot spots” that appear to play a critical role in neural identity and function, according to Science Daily.

The findings, published in the April 2, 2021, issue of Science, give novel insights into the genetic structures involved in aging and neuro-degeneration, and could point to the development of potential new therapies for diseases such Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other age-related dementia disorders.

“This research shows for the first time that there are sections of genome that neurons prioritize when it comes to repair,” says Professor and Salk President Rusty Gage, the paper’s co-corresponding author. “We’re excited about the potential of these findings to change the way we view many age-related diseases of the nervous system and potentially explore DNA repair as a therapeutic approach.”

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Can Wine Ward Off Cataracts?

Cataracts are a threat to the vision of millions, but new study suggests a welcome aid to prevention: wine.

A few glasses of alcohol — especially red wine — a week may help reduce your risk of cataract surgery, new British research suggests.

“The fact that our findings were particularly evident in wine drinkers may suggest a protective role of polyphenol antioxidants, which are especially abundant in red wine,” said study lead author Sharon Chua, a researcher from University College London Institute of Ophthalmology. Her team noted that grape skin is abundant in with healthy antioxidants, an antioxidant-like compound known as resveratrol, and other heathy chemicals called flavonoids.

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Too much alcohol — a drink a day or more — wasn’t great for eye health, however. In heavier drinkers, the odds for cataracts actually began to rise, according to the study.

Cataracts often develop with age and occur when the normally clear lens of the eye becomes clouded.

Cataracts are one of the leading causes of reversible vision loss and blurry vision in the world,” said Dr. Matthew Gorski, an ophthalmologist at Northwell Health in Great Neck, N.Y., who wasn’t involved in the new study.

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Why is good health so hard to achieve? – AHA

It ought to be a no-brainer, so to speak: Research has pinpointed seven ways people can achieve ideal heart and brain health. And – bonus – if Americans did those things, they also could help prevent many other chronic illnesses, According to the American Heart Association News.

But most people don’t, at least not consistently. What’s stopping them?

“Most of these steps require a great deal of self-regulation and self-control,” said Dolores Albarracin, a professor of psychology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “It’s not just getting one thing done, like going to get a vaccine, where you can do it and forget about it for a year.”

Volumes of research point to at least seven behaviors, called Life’s Simple 7, that can dramatically lower the burden of heart disease, stroke and dementia. Not smoking, eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, maintaining a healthy weight, and keeping blood glucose, blood pressure and cholesterol levels in a healthy range have the potential to collectively wipe out a vast majority of heart disease and stroke and prevent or delay a significant number of dementias.

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Tony

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Can drinking cocoa protect your heart when you’re stressed?

Increased consumption of flavanols – a group of molecules occurring naturally in fruit and vegetables – could protect people from mental stress-induced cardiovascular events such as stroke, heart disease and thrombosis, according to new research.

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Researchers have discovered that blood vessels were able to function better during mental stress when people were given a cocoa drink containing high levels of flavanols than when drinking a non-flavanol enriched drink.

A thin membrane of cells lining the heart and blood vessels, when functioning efficiently the endothelium helps to reduce the risk of peripheral vascular disease, stroke, heart disease, diabetes, kidney failure, tumor growth, thrombosis, and severe viral infectious diseases. We know that mental stress can have a negative effect on blood vessel function.

A UK research team from the University of Birmingham examined the effects of cocoa flavanols on stress-induced changes on vascular function – publishing their findings in Nutrients.

Lead author, Dr. Catarina Rendeiro, of the University of Birmingham’s School of Sport, Exercise and Rehabilitation Sciences, explains: “We found that drinking flavanol-rich cocoa can be an effective dietary strategy to reduce temporary impairments in endothelial function following mental stress and also improve blood flow during stressful episodes”.

“Flavanols are extremely common in a wide range of fruit and vegetables. By utilizing the known cardiovascular benefits of these compounds during periods of acute vascular vulnerability (such as stress) we can offer improved guidance to people about how to make the most of their dietary choices during stressful periods.”

In a randomized study, conducted by postgraduate student Rosalind Baynham, a group of healthy men drank a high-flavanol cocoa beverage 90 minutes before completing an eight-minute mental stress task.

The researchers measured forearm blood flow and cardiovascular activity at rest and during stress and assessed functioning of the blood vessels up to 90 min post stress – discovering that blood vessel function was less impaired when the participants drank high-flavanol cocoa. The researchers also discovered that flavanols improve blood flow during stress.

Stress is highly prevalent in today’s society and has been linked with both psychological and physical health. Mental stress induces immediate increases in heart rate and blood pressure (BP) in healthy adults and also results in temporary impairments in the function of arteries even after the episode of stress has ceased.

Single episodes of stress have been shown to increase the risk of acute cardiovascular events and the impact of stress on the blood vessels has been suggested to contribute to these stress-induced cardiovascular events. Indeed, previous research by Dr Jet Veldhuijzen van Zanten, co-investigator on this study, has shown that people at risk for cardiovascular disease show poorer vascular responses to acute stress.

“Our findings are significant for everyday diet, given that the daily dosage administered could be achieved by consuming a variety of foods rich in flavanols – particularly apples, black grapes, blackberries, cherries, raspberries, pears, pulses, green tea and unprocessed cocoa. This has important implications for measures to protect the blood vessels of those individuals who are more vulnerable to the effects of mental stress,” commented Dr. Rendeiro.

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Poor fitness linked to weaker brain fiber, higher dementia risk

Scientists have more evidence that exercise improves brain health and could be a lifesaving ingredient that prevents Alzheimer’s disease.

In particular, a new study from the University of Texas (UT) Southwestern’s O’Donnell Brain Institute suggests that the lower the fitness level, the faster the deterioration of vital nerve fibers in the brain. This deterioration results in cognitive decline, including memory issues characteristic of dementia patients.

Brain imaging shows yellow and reddish pixels representing areas where the functionality of white matter is associated with higher fitness levels. The images are based on cumulative data from patients in a study showing potential links between physical fitness and deterioration of white matter.

“This research supports the hypothesis that improving people’s fitness may improve their brain health and slow down the aging process,” said Dr. Kan Ding, a neurologist from the Peter O’Donnell Jr. Brain Institute who authored the study. 

White matter

The study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease focused on a type of brain tissue called white matter, which is comprised of millions of bundles of nerve fibers used by neurons to communicate across the brain.

Dr. Ding’s team enrolled older patients at high risk to develop Alzheimer’s disease who have early signs of memory loss, or mild cognitive impairment (MCI). The researchers determined that lower fitness levels were associated with weaker white matter, which in turn correlated with lower brain function.

Distinctive tactics

Unlike previous studies that relied on study participants to assess their own fitness, the new research objectively measured cardiorespiratory fitness with a scientific formula called maximal oxygen uptake. Scientists also used brain imaging to measure the functionality of each patient’s white matter.

Patients were then given memory and other cognitive tests to measure brain function, allowing scientists to establish strong correlations between exercise, brain health, and cognition.

Lingering Mysteries

The study adds to a growing body of evidence pointing to a simple yet crucial mandate for human health: Exercise regularly.

However, the study leaves plenty of unanswered questions about how fitness and Alzheimer’s disease are intertwined. For instance, what fitness level is needed to notably reduce the risk of dementia? Is it too late to intervene when patients begin showing symptoms?

Some of these topics are already being researched through a five-year national clinical trial led by the O’Donnell Brain Institute.

The trial, which includes six medical centers across the country, aims to determine whether regular aerobic exercise and taking specific medications to reduce high blood pressure and cholesterol levels can help preserve brain function. It involves more than 600 older adults at high risk to develop Alzheimer’s disease.

“Evidence suggests that what is bad for your heart is bad for your brain. We need studies like this to find out how the two are intertwined and hopefully find the right formula to help prevent Alzheimer’s disease,” said Dr. Rong Zhang of UT Southwestern, who oversees the clinical trial and is Director of the Cerebrovascular Laboratory in the Institute for Exercise and Environmental Medicine at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas, where the Dallas arm of the study is being carried out.

Prior Findings

The research builds upon prior investigations linking healthy lifestyles to better brain function, including a 2013 study from Dr. Zhang’s team that found neuronal messages are more efficiently relayed in the brains of older adults who exercise.

In addition, other teams at the O’Donnell Brain Institute are designing tests for the early detection of patients who will develop dementia, and seeking methods to slow or stop the spread of toxic proteins associated with the disease such as beta-amyloid and tau, which are blamed for destroying certain groups of neurons in the brain.

“A lot of work remains to better understand and treat dementia,” said Dr. Ding, Assistant Professor of Neurology & Neurotherapeutics. “But, eventually, the hope is that our studies will convince people to exercise more.

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Body Weight Has Surprising, Alarming Impact on Brain Function

Higher BMI is linked to decreased cerebral blood flow, which is associated with increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease and mental illness, according to a new study in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Diseast (JAD).

As a person’s weight goes up, all regions of the brain go down in activity and blood flow, according to a new brain imaging study in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. One of the largest studies linking obesity with brain dysfunction, scientists analyzed over 35,000 functional neuro-imaging scans using single-photon emission computerized tomography from more than 17,000 individuals to measure blood flow and brain activity. 

3D renderings of blood flow averaged across normal BMI (BMI = 23),
overweight (BMI = 29), and obese (BMI = 37) men, each 40 years of age (credit: Amen Clinics)

Low cerebral blood flow is the #1 brain imaging predictor that a person will develop Alzheimer’s disease. It is also associated with depression, ADHD, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, traumatic brain injury, addiction, suicide, and other conditions. “This study shows that being overweight or obese seriously impacts brain activity and increases the risk for Alzheimer’s disease as well as many other psychiatric and cognitive conditions,” explained Daniel G. Amen, MD, the study’s lead author and founder of Amen Clinics, one of the leading brain-centered mental health clinics in the United States. 

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Lifestyle often influential in Alzheimer’s patients – Study

For years, research to pin down the underlying cause of Alzheimer’s Disease has been focused on plaque found to be building up in the brain in AD patients. But treatments targeted at breaking down that buildup have been ineffective in restoring cognitive function, suggesting that the buildup may be a side effect of AD and not the cause itself.

A new study led by a team of Brigham Young University (BYU) researchers finds novel cellular-level support for an alternate theory that is growing in strength: Alzheimer’s could actually be a result of metabolic dysfunction in the brain. In other words, there is growing evidence that diet and lifestyle are at the heart of Alzheimer’s Disease.

“Alzheimer’s Disease is increasingly being referred to as insulin resistance of the brain or Type 3 Diabetes,” said senior study author Benjamin Bikman, a professor of physiology and developmental biology at BYU. “Our research shows there is likely a lifestyle origin to the disease, at least to some degree.”

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Feeding the Brain

Having had three family members suffer from dementia in general or Alzheimer’s Disease in particular, I am particularly interested in facts like these that affect cognition and keeping my brain healthy.

Our Better Health

Our body’s control centre needs a healthy diet

“You can’t wink your eye without nutrients being involved, never mind think, remember, learn, or sleep.” So says brain expert Aileen Burford-Mason, author of The Healthy Brain: Optimize Brain Power at Any Age. Find out more about how to feed your body’s command and control centre.

When people embark on the path to healthy eating, they’re often motivated by a desire to lose weight or to help fend off disease. It’s less common for people to embrace a wholesome diet to boost the well-being of their brain.

This is something that puzzles Toronto-based biochemist, immunologist, and cell biologist Aileen Burford-Mason. An expert in orthomolecular nutrition, she says the brain requires proper nutrition to function optimally. In fact, as the most metabolically active organ of the body, the brain uses nutrients at 10 times the rate of any other tissue or organ…

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Dementia linked to increased pain years before diagnosis – HHS

People with dementia may experience increased levels of pain 16 years before their diagnosis, according to new research. The study, funded in part by NIA and published in Pain, is the first to examine the link between pain and dementia over an extended period.

Dementia and chronic pain both cause changes to the brain and can affect a person’s brain health. Although many people who have dementia also have chronic pain, it is unclear whether chronic pain causes or accelerates the onset of dementia, is a symptom of dementia, or is simply associated with dementia because both are caused by some other factor. The new study, led by researchers at Université de Paris, examined the timeline of the association between dementia and self-reported pain by analyzing data from a study that has been gathering data on participants for as many as 27 years.

The researchers used data from the Whitehall II study, a long-term study of health in British government employees. Participants were between the ages of 35 and 55 when they enrolled in the study. Using surveys conducted multiple times over the course of the study, the researchers measured two aspects of participant-reported pain: pain intensity, which is how much bodily pain a participant experiences, and pain interference, which is how much a participant’s pain affects his or her daily activities. They used electronic health records to determine whether (and when) participants were diagnosed with dementia.

Out of 9,046 participants, 567 developed dementia during the period of observation. People who were diagnosed with dementia reported slightly more pain as early as 16 years before their diagnosis, driven mostly by differences in pain interference. These participants reported steadily increasing pain levels relative to those who were never diagnosed with dementia. At the time of diagnosis, people with dementia reported significantly more pain than people without dementia.

The researchers note that, because the brain changes associated with dementia start decades before diagnosis, it is unlikely that pain causes or increases the risk of dementia. Instead, they suggest that chronic pain might be an early symptom of dementia or simply correlated with dementia. Future studies that include data on the cause, type, location, and characteristics of pain and the type and seriousness of a patient’s dementia could help define in more detail the link between dementia and pain.

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