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What Is Alzheimer’s Disease?

As a senior citizen one of my most serious concerns is my mental functioning. My mother and her sister were afflicted with forms of dementia, including Alzheimer’s Disease. Also, my father’s father suffered cognitive problems in the 1940’s. Finally, my father’s sister and her daughter, my cousin had forms of dementia. It runs in my family and judging by the number of cases reported, there is a chance it runs in yours, too.

Here is what Alzheimers.gov has to say on the subject:

Alzheimer’s disease is a brain disorder that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills and, eventually, the ability to carry out the simplest tasks. People with Alzheimer’s also experience changes in behavior and personality.

More than 6 million Americans, many of them age 65 and older, are estimated to have Alzheimer’s disease. That’s more individuals living with Alzheimer’s disease than the population of a large American city. Many more people experience Alzheimer’s in their lives as family members and friends of those with the disease.

The symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease — changes in thinking, remembering, reasoning, and behavior — are known as dementia. That’s why Alzheimer’s is sometimes referred to as “dementia.” Other diseases and conditions can also cause dementia, with Alzheimer’s being the most common cause of dementia in older adults.

Alzheimer’s disease is not a normal part of aging. It’s the result of complex changes in the brain that start years before symptoms appear and lead to the loss of brain cells and their connections.

What Causes Alzheimer’s?

The causes of Alzheimer’s disease are not yet fully understood, but probably include a combination of:

  • Age-related changes in the brain, like shrinking, inflammation, blood vessel damage, and breakdown of energy within cells, which may harm neurons and affect other brain cells.
  • Changes or differences in genes, which may be passed down by a family member. Both types of Alzheimer’s — the very rare early-onset type occurring between age 30 and mid-60s, and the most common late-onset type occurring after a person’s mid-60s — can be related to a person’s genes in some way. Many people with Down syndrome, a genetic condition, will develop Alzheimer’s as they age and may begin to show symptoms in their 40s.
  • Health, environmental, and lifestyle factors that may play a role, such as exposure to pollutants, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity.

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Tony

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Fat Matters More Than Muscle for Heart Health, Research Finds

New research has found that changes in body fat impact early markers of heart health more than changes in body muscle, suggesting there are greater benefits to be expected from losing fat than from gaining muscle.

The observational study, led by researchers from the University of Bristol, was published in PLoS Medicine.

More than 3,200 young people in Bristol’s Children of the 90s birth cohort study were measured repeatedly for levels of body fat and lean mass using a body scanning device. These scans were performed four times across participants’ lives, when they were children, adolescents, and young adults (at ages 10, 13, 18, and 25 years). Handgrip strength was also tested when they were aged 12 and 25 years.

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When the participants were 25 years old, blood samples were collected and a technique called “metabolomics” was used to measure over 200 detailed markers of metabolism including different types of harmful cholesterol, glucose, and inflammation, which together indicate one’s susceptibility to developing heart disease and other health conditions.

Dr. Joshua Bell, senior research associate in epidemiology and lead author of the report, said: “We knew that fat gain is harmful for health, but we didn’t know whether gaining muscle could really improve health and help prevent heart disease. We wanted to put those benefits in context.”

The findings showed that gaining fat mass was strongly and consistently related to poorer metabolic health in young adulthood, as indicated, for example, by higher levels of harmful cholesterol. These effects were much larger (often about 5-times larger) than any beneficial effect of gaining muscle. Where there were benefits of gaining muscle, these were specific to gains that had occurred in adolescence – suggesting that this early stage of life is a key window for promoting muscle gain and reaping its benefits.

Dr. Bell added: “Fat loss is difficult, but that does seem to be where the greatest health benefits lie. We need to double down on preventing fat gain and supporting people in losing fat and keeping it off.

“We absolutely still encourage exercise – there are many other health benefits and strength is a prize in itself. We may just need to temper expectations for what gaining muscle can really do for avoiding heart disease – fat gain is the real driver.”

The study also found that improving strength (based on handgrip) has slightly greater benefits for markers of heart health than gaining muscle itself, suggesting that the frequent use of muscle, rather than the bulking up of muscle, may matter more.

Professor Nic Timpson, the Principal Investigator of the Children of the 90s and one of the study’s authors, said: “This research provides greater clarity in the relative roles of fat and lean mass in the basis of cardio-metabolic disease. This is an important finding and clearly part of a complex picture of health that involves weight gain, but also the other indirect costs and benefits of different types of lifestyle. It is only through detailed, longitudinal, studies like Children of the 90s that these relationships can be uncovered. We extend our thanks to the participants of the Children of the 90s who make all of this work possible.”

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Diet Swaps for Lowering Your Blood Pressure – Tufts

If you have high blood pressure (or would like to avoid it) you probably already know you should be limiting your intake of foods high in the mineral sodium. But did you also know you should be increasing your intake of foods containing other minerals? Potassium, magnesium, and calcium play important roles in blood pressure control. Increasing intake of foods rich in these minerals while decreasing intake of foods high in sodium may help keep your blood pressure under control.

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Sodium: High sodium intake increases water retention throughout the body.  Excess water in the circulatory system increases blood volume and therefore pressure on the arterial walls (blood pressure). Observational studies consistently demonstrate that dietary patterns higher sodium are associated with higher blood pressure and stroke risk. More importantly, many randomized controlled trials have shown that reducing salt intake decreases blood pressure. Most people consume too much sodium, typically as salt.

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Time until dementia symptoms appear can be estimated via brain scan

Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have developed an approach to estimating when a person who is likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease, but has no cognitive symptoms, will start showing signs of Alzheimer’s dementia.

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The algorithm, available online in the journal Neurology, uses data from a kind of brain scan known as amyloid positron emission tomography (PET) to gauge brain levels of the key Alzheimer’s protein amyloid beta.

In those who eventually develop Alzheimer’s dementia, amyloid silently builds up in the brain for up to two decades before the first signs of confusion and forgetfulness appear. Amyloid PET scans already are used widely in Alzheimer’s research, and this algorithm represents a new way of analyzing such scans to approximate when symptoms will arise. Using a person’s age and data from a single amyloid PET scan, the algorithm yields an estimate of how far a person has progressed toward dementia — and how much time is left before cognitive impairment sets in.

“I perform amyloid PET scans for research studies, and when I tell cognitively normal individuals about positive results, the first question is always, ‘How long do I have until I get dementia?’,” said senior author Suzanne Schindler, MD, PhD, an assistant professor of neurology. “Until now, the answer I’d have to give was something like, ‘You have an increased risk of developing dementia in the next five years.’ But what does that mean? Individuals want to know when they are likely to develop symptoms, not just whether they are at higher risk.”

Schindler and colleagues analyzed amyloid PET scans from 236 people participating in Alzheimer’s research studies through Washington University’s Charles F. and Joanne Knight Alzheimer Disease Research Center. The participants were an average of 67 years old at the beginning of the study. All participants underwent at least two brain scans an average of 4½ years apart. The researchers applied a widely used metric known as the standard uptake value ratio (SUVR) to the scans to estimate the amount of amyloid in each participant’s brain at each time point.

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Eating walnuts daily lowered ‘bad’ cholesterol and may reduce cardiovascular disease risk – AHA

Eating about ½ cup of walnuts every day for two years modestly lowered levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, known as “bad cholesterol,” and reduced the number of total LDL particles and small LDL particles in healthy, older adults, according to new research published today in the American Heart Association’s flagship journal Circulation.

Healthy older adults who ate a handful of walnuts (about ½ cup) a day for two years modestly lowered their level of low-density lipoprotein or LDL cholesterol levels. Consuming walnuts daily also reduced the number of LDL particles, a predictor of cardiovascular disease risk.

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Walnuts are a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids (alpha-linolenic acid), which have been shown to have a beneficial effect on cardiovascular health.

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The Happy Brain Chemicals that Makes You Feel Good

Our Better Health

Did you know, 37% of people around the world are unhappy. That means at least 1 in 3 people you know aren’t happy with their life. Are you one of those people?

If so, there are simple ways to improve your happiness. Have you heard of happiness chemicals? Your brain releases these happy chemicals that make you feel good.

It is common to think happiness is a destination that you have to find either through material items, relationships, or career status. But happiness is the journey and something you can create on your own.

Improving your happiness can be as simple as getting a good night’s sleep. It is known that people who are sleep deprived have a harder time remembering positive ideas and an easier time remembering negative ideas.

What are the Happiness Chemicals

When you feel good, your brain is releasing one of the happiness chemicals or happy…

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10 Early Signs of Alzheimer’s

Your dad just asked the same question he asked — and you answered — a few minutes ago. You realize that it’s not the first time he’s repeated himself or forgotten something you just said. What does this mean? Does he have Alzheimer’s disease?

Memory changes can be scary, both as an older adult experiencing them and as a family member or caregiver noticing them. But it’s important to note that forgetfulness doesn’t necessarily equal Alzheimer’s disease.

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“The red flag is if it’s happening on a consistent basis and is paired with a change in the person’s ability to function,” says Magdalena Bednarczyk, MD, a geriatrician at Rush University Medical Center. “When a patient comes to me for an evaluation, it’s usually because family and friends have noticed uncharacteristic or concerning behaviors, not just memory issues.”

According to Bednarczyk and the Alzheimer’s Association, if you notice any of these 10 signs — especially more than one — talk to your loved one about seeing their primary care doctor or geriatrician as soon as possible:

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Balance between sleep and exercise may help osteoarthritis patients manage pain 

Although osteoarthritis has no cure, researchers are developing a new intervention to improve patients’ chronic pain outcomes.

It may shoot through the hands while typing or flare in the knees when getting out of the car. Wherever the pain, over 32 million Americans living with osteoarthritis experience it. 

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To reduce that pain, patients living with the degenerative joint disease are often told to exercise. 

It sounds simple. 

But people with osteoarthritis may experience pain when they start to move more, which can be a deterrent to taking up, or sticking with, an exercise program. 

“Pain during movement is an important reason why this population isn’t more active, and we need to identify ways we can help to change this,” said Daniel Whibley, Ph.D., research assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Michigan Medicine. “Otherwise, they may end up in a loop of pain and inactivity that we know can lead to disability later down the line.”

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Weekend funnies …

Tony

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How healthy are pomegranates? – AHA

Pomegranates can be a little intimidating. Cutting one open requires some precision. And are they even worth the work to free all those little ruby red buds inside? Nutritionists think so.

“Pomegranates are high in dietary fiber and antioxidants,” said Penny Kris-Etherton, the Evan Pugh University Professor of Nutritional Sciences at Penn State University in University Park, Pennsylvania.

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The fruit’s red color comes from plant pigments called polyphenols found in many plant-based foods that work as antioxidants in the body and help fight inflammation and aging. When you open a pomegranate, you find a bounty of red, round arils that have a sweet but tart taste. Inside each aril is a small seed. It’s OK to eat the arils as a whole or stick with the juice and spit out the seeds. But don’t eat the rind and white areas, called membranes, around the arils.

Half of a cup of arils has 72 calories, 16 grams of carbohydrates and three grams of fiber. Pomegranates also have a lot of folate, potassium and vitamin K.

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Regular exercise may lower risk of developing anxiety by almost 60% – Study

A quick online search for ways to improve our mental health will often come up with a myriad of different results. However, one of the most common suggestions put forward as a step to achieving wellness – and preventing future issues – is doing some physical exercise, whether it be a walk or playing a team sport.

Anxiety disorders – which typically develop early in a person’s life – are estimated to affect approximately 10% of the world’s population and has been found to be twice as common in women compared to men. And while exercise is put forward as a promising strategy for the treatment of anxiety, little is known about the impact of exercise dose, intensity or physical fitness level on the risk of developing anxiety disorders.

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To help answer this question, researchers in Sweden have published a study in Frontiers in Psychiatry to show that those who took part in the world’s largest long-distance cross-country ski race (Vasaloppet) between 1989 and 2010 had a “significantly lower risk” of developing anxiety compared to non-skiers during the same period.

The study is based on data from almost 400,000 people in one of the largest ever population-wide epidemiology studies across both sexes.

Surprising finding among female skiers

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Alcohol’s Overhyped Health Benefits – Tufts

Drinking too much alcohol is clearly bad for health, but is drinking a moderate amount beneficial? The jury is out.

Some people feel a drink at the end of a tough day helps them unwind and relax. Others may see a daily glass of red wine as a way to boost heart health. This kind of moderate drinking has been associated in some studies with positive health effects, but cause-and-effect evidence is lacking, and alcohol carries serious risks to health and safety. Understanding the science behind the risks and benefits of alcohol consumption can help us make informed decisions about our drinking.

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Red wine is often singled out for potential health benefits. It contains bioactive compounds called polyphenols which have been associated with cardiovascular health. It is important to recognize that all of the potentially beneficial compounds in red wine are also found in other foods and beverages. For example, flavonoids, which account for over 85 percent of the polyphenols in red wine, are common in many vegetables, seeds, nuts, spices, and herbs. Resveratrol, a much-hyped compound being studied for health benefits, is found in grape skins and wine, but also in more than 70 other plant species, including berries, peanuts, and cocoa.

The detrimental effects of excess alcohol intake on heart health are well documented. Drinking a lot over a long time or binge drinking can damage the heart, causing problems including stretching of the heart muscle (cardiomyo-pathy), irregular heartbeat (atrial fibrillation), high blood pressure, and stroke. The potential benefits of red wine drinking, particularly in excess, may therefore be outweighed by potential risks, especially since the beneficial compounds in the wine are easily available from other dietary sources.

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Rebooting immune cells’ metabolism shields the aging brain in mice – NIA

Scientists recently discovered a process by which immune cells can drive aging in the brain, and how to block this pathway to improve memory and maze navigation in older mice. The findings suggest a potential avenue to develop new treatments for cognitive conditions like Alzheimer’s disease. The study, led by researchers from Stanford University, was published in Nature on Jan. 20.

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Inflammation is part of the immune system response to infection or injury. But as people age, they may have chronic low-level inflammation, which is linked to age-related diseases and cognitive decline.

Normally, immune cells — including a group of cells called macrophages — create immune responses that protect the brain, such as disposing of abnormal forms of proteins that are tied to neurodegeneration. But as people — and mice — age, immune cells can start encouraging inflammation rather than protecting against it.

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Alcohol Can Cause Immediate Risk of Atrial Fibrillation – UCSF

A single glass of wine can quickly – significantly – raise the drinker’s risk for atrial fibrillation, according to new research by UC San Francisco. 

The study provides the first evidence that alcohol consumption substantially increases the chance of the heart rhythm condition occurring within a few hours. The findings might run counter to a prevailing perception that alcohol can be “cardioprotective,” say the authors, suggesting that reducing or avoiding alcohol might help mitigate harmful effects.  

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“Contrary to a common belief that atrial fibrillation is associated with heavy alcohol consumption, it appears that even one alcohol drink may be enough to increase the risk,” said Gregory Marcus, MD, MAS, professor of medicine in the Division of Cardiology at UCSF. 

“Our results show that the occurrence of atrial fibrillation might be neither random nor unpredictable,” he said. “Instead, there may be identifiable and modifiable ways of preventing an acute heart arrhythmia episode.” 

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Supplements and Older Adults – Tufts

A recent study, published in The Journal of Nutrition, looked at nutrient and herbal supplement use in U.S. adults. The study surveyed over 3,400 people ages 60 and older between 2011 and 2014. “About 70 percent of respondents reported using at least one dietary supplement over the previous 30 days,” says study co-author Johanna Dwyer, DSc, RD, senior nutrition scientist with the Office of Dietary Supplements at the National Institutes of Health and director of the Frances Stern Nutrition Center at Tufts University. Older Americans may want to rethink this practice, however, since a growing number of studies have found that supplements may not have the intended health benefits. Additionally, more information is needed on potential interactions between supplements and prescription drugs.

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Disappointing Outcomes: Vitamins, minerals, and other supplements have been touted over the years as a way to make up for nutritional deficiencies, prevent disease, and boost overall health. “Seventy-nine percent or more of survey respondents reported daily use of the most common products like multivitamin/mineral preparations, vitamin D, and omega-3 supplements,” says Dwyer. Unfortunately, these popular products and other supplements may not provide significant health benefits. “Early observational studies suggested we would see benefits from nutrient supplementation, but, unfortunately, many of those benefits have not been realized,” says Alice H. Lichtenstein, DSc, senior scientist at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging and executive editor of Tufts Health & Nutrition Letter. Recently, a review published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiologyreported that supplements generally showed no effect on either cardiovascular outcomes or death from any cause. Folic acid, which showed a modest statistically significant reduction in stroke and total cardiovascular disease, was the only exception reported in this study.

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