Light therapy has demonstrated its usefulness in treating a variety of diseases. But can it delay the occurrence of age-related disease?
The answer may be yes, according to a study in mice published in February inLasers in Surgery and Medicine. Praveen Arany, a University at Buffalo expert in a form of light therapy called photobiomodulation (PBM), was co-principal investigator with Edward G. Lakatta, MD, of the National Institute on Aging, which is part of the National Institutes of Health.
Almost 20% of Americans older than 65 have been diagnosed with heart disease, and heart disease continues to be the leading cause of death in the United States. “The idea was to see if intervention in middle age could enable people to avoid further age-related heart deterioration,” said Arany, PhD, DDS, associate professor of oral biology in UB School of Dental Medicine.
The study focused on heart condition and function in middle-aged mice, 14 months of age. The research showed an improvement in heart function after exposure to PBM therapy. PBM also mitigated the thickness of the cardiac wall. “As muscle thickens, it becomes stiffer, and the pumping action of the heart is less effective,” said Arany. Gait symmetry — observing how mice performed comfortably on a treadmill — also improved, suggesting an improvement in neuromuscular coordination.
The experiment exposed mice to a dose of near-infrared light by using an overhead LED light source rather than a focused light source. The ambient low-dose exposure took place five days a week for two minutes each day. One group of the genetically manipulated mice gets severe heart disease, which usually causes death. After treatment with PBM, heart disease among these mice with heart disease did not progress. The survival rate among the most susceptible group was 100%, compared to the usual survival rate of 43%. The results were significant even though the eight-month study was interrupted for three months by COVID-19.
In humanity’s ongoing quest for the elixir of life, the science keeps pointing to stem cells. Research increasingly shows that maintaining stem cell fitness promotes a long healthspan, and new findings show keeping stem cells clean and tidy is an integral step.
In a study published March 21, 2023 in Cell Stem Cell, researchers at University of California San Diego School of Medicine found that blood stem cells use an unexpected method to get rid of their misfolded proteins, and that this pathway’s activity degrades with age. The authors say boosting this specialized garbage disposal system could help protect against age-related diseases.
The study focused on hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs), the cells in our bone marrow that produce new blood and immune cells throughout our lives. When their function is weakened or lost, this can lead to blood and immune disorders, such as anemia, blood clotting and cancer.
“Stem cells are in it for the long haul,” said senior study author Robert Signer, PhD, associate professor at UC San Diego School of Medicine. “Their need for longevity requires them to be wired differently than all the short-lived cells in the body.”
A key to keeping stem cells happy is maintaining protein homeostasis. Previous work showed that stem cells, including HSCs, synthesize proteins much slower than other cell types, prioritizing quality over quantity. This helps them make fewer mistakes in the process, as misfolded proteins can become toxic to cells if allowed to build up.
Still, some mistakes or protein damage are inevitable, so the researchers set out to understand how stem cells ensure these proteins are properly discarded.
Some of the lowest rates of heart and brain disease ever reported by science are found among Indigenous communities inhabiting the tropical forests of lowland Bolivia. New USC research on two of these societies, the Tsimané and Mosetén, suggests that there are optimal levels of food consumption and exercise that maximize healthy brain aging and reduce the risk of disease.
Thanks to industrialization, humans now enjoy greater access to food, less physical toil and better access to health care than ever before. However, we’ve grown accustomed to eating more and exercising less. Obesity and sedentary lifestyles are associated with smaller brain volumes and faster cognitive decline.
To better understand the tipping point where abundance and ease begin to undermine health, the researchers enrolled 1,165 Tsimané and Mosetén adults, aged 40-94 years, and provided transportation for participants from their remote villages to the closest hospital with CT scanning equipment.
Excess weight or obesity boosts risk of death by anywhere from 22% to 91%—significantly more than previously believed—while the mortality risk of being slightly underweight has likely been overestimated, according to new CU Boulder research.
The findings, published Feb. 9 in the journal Population Studies, counter prevailing wisdom that excess weight boosts mortality risk only in extreme cases.
The statistical analysis of nearly 18,000 people also shines a light on the pitfalls of using body mass index (BMI) to study health outcomes, providing evidence that the go-to metric can potentially bias findings. After accounting for those biases, it estimates that about 1 in 6 U.S. deaths is related to excess weight or obesity.
“Existing studies have likely underestimated the mortality consequences of living in a country where cheap, unhealthy food has grown increasingly accessible, and sedentary lifestyles have become the norm,” said author Ryan Masters, associate professor of sociology at CU Boulder.
“This study and others are beginning to expose the true toll of this public health crisis.”
Challenging the obesity paradox
While numerous studies show that heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes (which are often associated with being overweight) elevate mortality risk, very few have shown that groups with higher BMIs have higher mortality rates.
Researchers have discovered how a molecule found in green tea breaks apart tangles of the protein tau, a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease. Based on this finding, the team identified other molecules that can also untangle tau and may be better drug candidates than the green tea molecule. Results from the NIA-funded study, published in Nature Communications, suggest that this approach may one day provide an effective strategy for treating Alzheimer’s.
In Alzheimer’s, tau abnormally sticks together in fibrous tangles that spread between brain cells, leading to cell death. The molecule epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) — the one found in green tea — is known to untangle these tau fibers. However, EGCG is not on its own an effective Alzheimer’s treatment because it cannot easily penetrate the brain and binds to many proteins other than tau, weakening its effect. Therefore, researchers wanted to find molecules that replicate the effects of EGCG but have better drug properties for treating Alzheimer’s.
While life-altering cognitive decline is not always a part of aging, one in three people is likely to have some form of dementia by age 85. There is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s diseases or any other form of dementia, and the few existing treatments can only slow the onset and progression of these conditions. Prevention is our best weapon, and lifestyle choices play a major role in keeping our brains healthy.
Take Care of Your Heart. Work with your healthcare provider to control blood pressure, blood sugar, and serum cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
Get Moving. Engage in moderate physical activity for at least 30 minutes a day, five days a week.
Eat Right. Consume a healthy dietary pattern, such as a Mediterranean-style diet, reduced sodium DASH diet, or the AHA heart healthy diet described on page 2.
Butt Out. Avoid exposure to tobacco products.
Watch your Head. Reduce risk of head injuries by wearing appropriate safety helmets and practicing fall prevention.
Keep the Mind Active. Engage in novel cognitive activities, like continuing formal education, learning a new language or instrument, or doing challenging puzzles.
Rest and Relax. Get good quality sleep (treat sleep apnea if present), and manage stress, anxiety, and depression.
Prioritize Friends. Stay socially active.
Listen Up. Seek help to improve your hearing if you suspect you don’t hear well.
Study: Older adults who experience sudden cardiac arrest during or following exercise tend to have better health than those whose sudden cardiac arrest is not triggered by exercise
The annual incidence of sports-related sudden cardiac arrest in older adults is rare: 2 to 3 cases per 100,000 people.
Of the 4,078 total sudden cardiac arrest cases studied in people 65 and older, 77 (1.9%) occurred during or following an exercise activity, such as cycling, gym workout, running, or playing golf or tennis. Most of the cardiac arrests occurred in men (91%).
Investigators also analyzed medical records, which were available for 47 people with sports-related cardiac arrest and 3,162 for people with non-sports-related cardiac arrest. This analysis revealed that people who experienced sudden cardiac arrest during or shortly after exercise were more likely to have fewer cardiovascular risk factors and other health issues than people who did not experience exercise-related sudden cardiac arrest.
People who experienced sports-related cardiac arrest were also more likely to experience it in a public location, which contributed to being four times more likely to survive than those who experienced a non-sports-related cardiac arrest.
The human brain holds many clues about a person’s long-term health — in fact, research shows that a person’s brain age is a more useful and accurate predictor of health risks and future disease than their birth date. Now, a new artificial intelligence (AI) model that analyzes magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) brain scans developed by USC researchers could be used to accurately capture cognitive decline linked to neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s much earlier than previous methods.
Brain aging is considered a reliable biomarker for neurodegenerative disease risk. Such risk increases when a person’s brain exhibits features that appear “older” than expected for someone of that person’s age. By tapping into the deep learning capability of the team’s novel AI model to analyze the scans, the researchers can detect subtle brain anatomy markers that are otherwise very difficult to detect and that correlate with cognitive decline. Their findings, published on Tuesday, January 2, in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, offer an unprecedented glimpse into human cognition.
“Our study harnesses the power of deep learning to identify areas of the brain that are aging in ways that reflect a cognitive decline that may lead to Alzheimer’s,” said Andrei Irimia, assistant professor of gerontology, biomedical engineering, quantitative & computational biology and neuroscience at the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology and corresponding author of the study.
As a growing number of older adults are experimenting with cannabis to help alleviate chronic symptoms, a new University of California San Diego School of Medicine study has identified a sharp increase in cannabis-related emergency department visits among the elderly.
The study, published Jan. 9, 2023 in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, identified a 1,808% relative increase in the rate of cannabis-related trips to the emergency department among California adults ages 65 and older from 2005 to 2019. Researchers used a trend analysis of data from the Department of Healthcare Access and Information and found that cannabis-related emergency department visits went from a total of 366 in 2005 to 12,167 in 2019.
The significant increase is particularly troublesome to geriatricians, given that older adults are at a higher risk for adverse health effects associated with psychoactive substances, including cannabis.
“Many patients assume they aren’t going to have adverse side effects from cannabis because they often don’t view it as seriously as they would a prescription drug,” said Benjamin Han, MD, MPH, the study’s first author and a geriatrician in the Division of Geriatrics, Gerontology, and Palliative Care in the Department of Medicine at UC San Diego School of Medicine.
“I do see a lot of older adults who are overly confident, saying they know how to handle it — yet as they have gotten older, their bodies are more sensitive, and the concentrations are very different from what they may have tried when they were younger.”
Regular readers know that I learned that I had contracted lung cancer in the first week of November. After undergoing a number of tests, biopsies and scans, I got to meet my ‘cancer team’ on December 20. At that meeting I learned that the tumor in my lung was of a sufficient size that surgery was the best avenue of removal.
Just to back up a step, I want to recall my shock at learning that I was carrying a deadly growth in my left lung. Writing this blog about living a healthy life and pretty much doing everything in my power to accomplish exactly that, I didn’t expect anything of the sort. I don’t smoke. Since my diagnosis, I have learned that 15% to 20% of lung cancer victims are not smokers. So, my ignorance of that fact was costly. Also, lung cancer is very much a disease of the aged. Only about 10% of lung cancer cases occur in people younger than 50 years old. I am 82, another costly oversight.
In a study using data from nearly 1,200 older adults, Johns Hopkins Medicine researchers have added to a growing body of evidence that loss of the sense of smell is a predictive marker for an increased risk of frailty as people age. Building on previous research showing that olfactory dysfunction is a common early sign of brain-linked cognitive decline, the new findings suggest the link to frailty is likely not just in the brain but also in the nose itself.
If further studies affirm the findings, the researchers say, screening older adults’ ability to smell various scents could be as important as testing hearing and vision over time.
Results of the study, published Jan. 10 in the Journal of Gerontology, looked at the prevalence of frailty, an age-related syndrome of physiological decline, along with two different ways of assessing the ability to smell: olfactory sensitivity (the ability to detect an odor’s presence) and olfactory identification (the ability to detect and name an odor). Olfactory identification is a central measure of smell function, which has been linked to frailty and relies on higher-order cognitive processing to interpret and classify an odor. This suggests that neurological function may help to explain the relationship between smell and frailty. However, researchers say the ability to merely detect an odor without having to use higher-level neurological processes and the relationship of the ability to detect odors alone with frailty have been understudied.
I realize that writing about 80-year-olds and above is ‘rarified atmosphere,’ but I loved the fact that walking was still a tangible benefit to the person. You can never hear enough about the benefits of exercise or the damage of being sedentary.
One hour of walking per week is associated with greater longevity in people aged 85 years and above, according to research presented at ESC Congress 2022.
Regardless of age, adults are advised to do at least 150 minutes a week of moderate intensity activity or 75 minutes a week of vigorous intensity activity, or an equivalent combination.2 However, in adults, sedentary time tends to increase with age while the amount of physical activity declines.
Adults who stay well-hydrated appear to be healthier, develop fewer chronic conditions, such as heart and lung disease, and live longer than those who may not get sufficient fluids, according to a National Institutes of Health study published in eBioMedicine.
Using health data gathered from 11,255 adults over a 30-year period, researchers analyzed links between serum sodium levels – which go up when fluid intake goes down – and various indicators of health. They found that adults with serum sodium levels at the higher end of a normal range were more likely to develop chronic conditions and show signs of advanced biological aging than those with serum sodium levels in the medium ranges. Adults with higher levels were also more likely to die at a younger age.
“The results suggest that proper hydration may slow down aging and prolong a disease-free life,” said Natalia Dmitrieva, Ph.D., a study author and researcher in the Laboratory of Cardiovascular Regenerative Medicine at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), part of NIH.
Measuring handgrip strength is one of the main ways of detecting sarcopenia, a syndrome characterized by loss of muscle mass, force and function.
Sarcopenia, a clinical syndrome characterized by progressive and extensive decline in skeletal muscle mass, force and function, is widely considered part of aging. Early diagnosis is extremely important and begins with handgrip measurement using a dynamometer.
A recent study by researchers at the Federal University of São Carlos (UFSCar) in São Paulo state, Brazil, collaborating with colleagues at University College London (UCL) in the United Kingdom, concluded that the diagnosis protocol should be changed by raising the handgrip strength cutoff point used to detect muscle weakness. They say new criteria proposed in their paper would be better predictors of mortality risk in older adults, enabling healthcare professionals to detect the onset of sarcopenia earlier and more accurately.
“In this large, observational study, ground, instant and decaffeinated coffee were associated with equivalent reductions in the incidence of cardiovascular disease and death from cardiovascular disease or any cause,” said study author Professor Peter Kistler of the Baker Heart and Diabetes Research Institute, Melbourne, Australia. “The results suggest that mild to moderate intake of ground, instant and decaffeinated coffee should be considered part of a healthy lifestyle.”
There is little information on the impact of different coffee preparations on heart health and survival. This study examined the associations between types of coffee and incident arrhythmias, cardiovascular disease and death using data from the UK Biobank, which recruited adults between 40 and 69 years of age. Cardiovascular disease was comprised of coronary heart disease, congestive heart failure and ischaemic stroke.
Like all adults, older adults should avoid or limit alcohol consumption. In fact, aging can lead to social and physical changes that make older adults more susceptible to alcohol misuse and abuse and more vulnerable to the consequences of alcohol. Alcohol dependence or heavy drinking affects every organ in the body, including the brain.
A comprehensive study from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism shows that alcohol consumption among older adults, especially women, is on the rise. The researchers also found evidence that certain brain regions show signs of premature aging in alcohol-dependent men and women. In addition, heavy drinking for extended periods of time in older adults may contribute to poor heart health, as shown in this 2016 study. These studies suggest that stopping or limiting the use of alcohol could improve heart health and prevent the accelerated aging seen with heavy alcohol use.