A new observational study finds that red wine and cheese have protective effects.
- Iowa State University researchers found that red wine, cheese, and a weekly serving of lamb could help reduce cognitive decline.
- The observational study is based on a decade of research conducted at the UK Biobank.
- The team also found that excessive salt could help promote diseases of dementia.
The world is not in want of diet advice. Paleo living, vegan lifestyles, eating for your blood type, seasonal and regional eating, low sugar, Mediterannean ingredients, low fat, high fat—numerous bestsellers thrive in every category imaginable. The perpetual challenge is sourcing credible information amidst endless literature of hype.
Humans also gravitate towards diets that confirm our biases, making sound nutrition advice even more challenging. Coffee is good for us? Wonderful! Unless you gave up coffee for some strange reason; then you question the study's premise. Eat all the cheese and drink all the wine you want? I knew it! Well, maybe not "all," but according to research from Iowa State University, a bit of funk and fermentation might be the key to slowing cognitive decline.
Move over, Greece. The French were right all along.
For this study, published in Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, food science and human nutrition assistant professor, Auriel Willette, and neuroscience Ph.D. candidate, Brandon Klinedinst, analyzed data from 1,787 adults through the UK Biobank. This UK-based organization contains in-depth genetic and health information from a half-million British residents. Willette and Klinedinst focused on adults aged 46 to 77.
The team found that diet earlier in life affects your risk of cognitive decline later on. While added salt might put you at greater risk for diseases of dementia, the following finding is certain to make some of us cheer.
"Observations further suggest in risk status-dependent manners that adding cheese and red wine to the diet daily, and lamb on a weekly basis, may also improve long-term cognitive outcomes."
Between 2006-10, participants in the UK Biobank research filled out a Fluid Intelligence Test, followed by recurring assessments in 2012-13 and 2015-16. These analyses helped researchers understand each volunteer's ability to "think on the fly." They also filled out information regarding food and alcohol consumption.
As Willette and Klinedinst write, dietary modifications such as the Mediterranean-Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension Intervention for Neurodegenerative 70 Delay (MIND) diet are proving to help slow cognitive decline. Such lifestyle changes later in life are important. The researchers wanted to know if youthful diets influence your risk of diseases like Alzheimer's before modifications are made.
They found that cheese was particularly helpful in protecting against age-related cognitive problems; daily consumption of alcohol, especially red wine, improves cognitive function; eating lamb (but not other red meat) on a weekly basis appears to be helpful; excess salt promotes cognitive decline over time.
While they were unable to pinpoint exact reasons for this protective effect, they cite calcium, vitamin B12, gut-friendly bacteria, and lactopeptides in cheese as potential candidates. A moderate serving of red wine has long been touted as healthy; interestingly, volunteers with a genetic predisposition to Alzheimer's appear to benefit most. They also note other research finding that regular beer intake increases the risk of dementia. Not all alcohol is created equally.
Willette notes that cheese and wine are not only protective against cognitive decline but are also stress relievers in a world living through a pandemic. That said, he knows this is an observational study—randomized clinical trials are needed to provide substantial proof. As with any diet, genetic factors play a role. You should know personal risk factors before making drastic changes to your diet.
As Klinedinst concludes,
"Depending on the genetic factors you carry, some individuals seem to be more protected from the effects of Alzheimers, while other seem to be at greater risk. That said, I believe the right food choices can prevent the disease and cognitive decline altogether. Perhaps the silver bullet we're looking for is upgrading how we eat. Knowing what that entails contributes to a better understanding of Alzheimer's and putting this disease in a reverse trajectory."
Stay in touch with Derek on Twitter and Facebook. His new book is "Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."
Preliminary studies on mice show positive results.
- While the exact cause of Alzheimer's remains unknown, researchers are targeting toxic beta-amyloid buildup.
- A recent study on mice found oxytocin could be a protective agent against plaque buildup.
- Though more research needs to be conducted, this is a hopeful sign in our fight against a crippling disease.
While Americas watch the battle for the most cognitively-fit president unfold on social media and television, the problem pundits are really discussing is dementia. Currently, 5.7 million Americans are suffering from diseases of dementia. Alzheimer's disease accounts for between 60-70 percent of these cases.
There has long been speculation about the cause of Alzheimer's. We know that exercise, diet, and continued education play a role in staving it off. Considering an estimated 13.9 million seniors worldwide will fall victim to dementia by 2060, it's a problem we need to address.
While somewhere between 1 and 5 percent of cases have been identified as genetic, one potential cause of Alzheimer's is the amyloid hypothesis. This idea, first proposed in 1991, states that the brain becomes riddled with extracellular amyloid beta deposits. These amyloid plaques compromise cognitive functioning by negatively affecting memory, decision-making, and planning, while causing depression, distrust in others, delusions, apathy, and changes in sleeping patterns.
Under normal circumstances, beta-amyloid plays a protective and reparative role in the central nervous system. When grouped together in plaques, however, the same peptide leads to disruption in cell function and neuronal death—the trigger for dementia.
This hypothesis was updated in 2009 to reflect the aging-related process of an amyloid-related protein. Regardless, the strongest indicator of Alzheimer's appears to plaque buildup. New research is pointing toward oxytocin as a potential therapeutic intervention.
Oxytocin gained popular currency as the "love hormone" due to its role in mammalian bonding. After an orgasm, oxytocin spreads throughout your bloodstream, resulting in feelings of satisfaction and contentment. Crying babies are calmed by the oxytocin provided by their mother's milk.
Photo: Varlamova Lydmila / Shutterstock
As Eleftheria Kodosaki, an academic associate in Biomedical Sciences at Cardiff Metropolitan University, writes, male mice were recently treated with the toxic beta-amyloid, resulting in the desired effect: their brain's synaptic plasticity suffered. The researchers then treated mice with the toxic beta-amyloid and oxytocin, which did not affect their neural plasticity. The team speculates that oxytocin may play a role in staving off memory loss.
That may is key. Kodosaki notes that this disease remains baffling.
"In theory, being able to stop groups of toxic beta-amyloid from forming could potentially prevent memory loss and cognitive decline. Unfortunately, Alzheimer's disease is way more complicated than just an accumulation of beta-amyloid in the brain."
Plaque buildups have been discovered in people that don't have the disease or suffer from any symptoms. The beta-amyloid angle is only a theory, and there are others: as mentioned, genetics, as well as the Tau hypothesis. In 2002, researchers at the Institute of Psychiatry in De Crespigny Park, London speculated that tau proteins form neurofibrillary tangle inside of nerve cell bodies, resulting in the collapse of neuronal transport systems.
Kodaski points out that all medication targeting beta-amyloid has failed. She also notes that research needs to be conducted on female mice, as women are more likely to develop Alzheimer's than men. Of course, humans are not mice, though taking note of sex differences in mice might help researchers gauge potential therapies in humans.
As most studies conclude, more research is needed. But it is a hopeful sign for treating the frustrating realm of dementia. In an aging world with a declining population, we need to protect our seniors the best we can.
It's never too late to start strengthening your brain.
- Cognitive reserve is your mind's ability to resist damage to your brain.
- Brain reserve refers to the brain structures that provide resilience against neurodegenerative diseases.
- A certain number of people with Alzheimer's pathology never show symptoms; there are methods for developing this skill.
Not all brains are built equally. How you treat what you're given, however, matters. Around the world, 50 million people suffer from diseases of dementia. Ten million new cases appear every year. The neurodegenerative Alzheimer's disease accounts for 60-70 percent of these cases, making it one of the elderly's greatest challenges.
Fortunately, there are methods for keeping dementia at bay. Some people with Alzheimer's pathology never show symptoms of the disease. It all has to do with building up a brain reserve.
What are brain reserve and cognitive reserve?
Cognitive reserve is an individual's ability to avoid cognitive symptoms even when affected by a pathology such as Alzheimer's disease. This concept refers to one's ability to improvise in order to maintain healthy cognition, which requires co-opting other brain regions to accomplish new tasks. Your brain is flexible enough to change operational patterns to deal with challenges in novel ways.
Brain reserve specifically references individual differences in the brain's structural properties that affords one resilience against neurodegenerative diseases. An individual with a substantial brain reserve is able to tolerate age-related changes without showing clinical symptoms of disease.
Specifically, "The term 'cognitive reserve' is thus meant to represent physiological robustness within functional brain networks, while the term 'brain reserve' refers to differences in available structural neural substrates." Another way to think about it: consider brain reserve the hardware while cognitive reserve is the software running inside of it. The term that encompasses both is global reserve.
What you can do to prevent Alzheimer's | Lisa Genova
What is the physiology of brain reserve?
The cerebellum is one brain structure that contributes to brain reserve. Located at the rear of the brain, the cerebellum plays an essential role in motor control in humans. It is also involved in attentional capabilities, emotional control, and language processing. Damage to this region can result in poor motor and postural control.
The cerebellum is also the brain region that contains the highest number of neurons. This is important as numerous forms of brain plasticity occur there. This is what allows the brain to "change itself," as psychiatrist Norman Doidge phrased it. This skill—your brain's ability to change itself throughout your life through its ability to transfer functions to different regions—is the basis of cognitive reserve.
How it protects against Alzheimer's and other dementias
In a word: neuroplasticity. Doidge writes about a nun who, after suffering a stroke, continued to solve complex crossword puzzles until the day she died. There are other instances of teachers returning to work after having a stroke even though brain tissue associated with cognitive tasks has been destroyed. Their brains routed those tasks through other regions. People who are adept at any or all of the six skills below have a strong brain reserve, and therefore can recover from insults to the brain such as neurodegenerative disease.
Photo by David Matos / Unsplash
Six ways you can beef up your brain reserve
As with anything, the earlier you begin best practices, the better. That said, there is evidence that neuroplasticity is possible at any age. Maintaining optimal health through exercise, diet, maintaining strong social ties, getting enough sleep, not smoking, and limiting alcohol use are always important for brain health. The following six practices can help you build a strong brain reserve.
Never stop learning
As noted above, one nun kept her brain healthy by doing crossword puzzles. Learning a new language or musical instrument have also been shown to help keep your brain working optimally. As with physical exercise, brain exercises keep your neural connections growing. Curiosity is an essential trait for maintaining strong brain health as well. Remaining curious is one of the strongest protective measures for staving off diseases of dementia.
Utilizing all of your senses is crucial. That means stopping to smell the flowers. That also means being a tactile toucher—well, maybe not at the current moment, but in general. Listening to music is its own skill. Again, curiosity matters: if you're not an avid smeller, take a course in wine or perfumery. You're not only expanding a sense, you're helping strengthen your entire neurological structure.
Have faith…in yourself
Your relationship to aging matters. When middle-aged or older volunteers were exposed to negative stereotypes about aging, they performed worse on memory tasks. How you frame the inevitability of aging affects how you age. Resilience is a mindset. If you need inspiration, consider Tao Porchon-Lynch, who continued teaching yoga and ballroom dancing until her recent death at the age of 101. Whenever I practiced with her, she would laugh and say age is only a number, and her life proved it.
While offloading memory to your phone can have detrimental effects, doing so in order to prioritize things you have to remember—or to free up cognitive space to learn new skills—is a great use of technology. Keep your life simple by letting repetitive tasks be on auto-pilot so you can engage new challenges with full attention.
Say it aloud
There's an old trick that sometimes works when meeting someone new: say their name three times to remember their name. Not as in, "John, John, John." That's a quick way to lose a potential new friend. Think, "Nice to meet you, John." A little later, "Where do you work, John?" When departing, "Take care, John, hope to see you again." This trick not only applies to new people, but with everything you know. By repeating a fact or idea aloud or by writing it down, you're more likely to imprint it to mind.
Take your time
In the above example, repeating "John" three straight times is less effective than saying it three times over five minutes. If you commit a factoid to memory, space out the time you repeat it. Cramming overnight for an exam never works; studying for a half-hour every day for a week does. Take your time learning new skills as well as recalling what you already know. Your memory will thank you.
Unique research out of Switzerland says be kind, just not too kind.
- Researchers from Switzerland followed 65 senior citizens over five years and tested their personality traits.
- Being curious and curmudgeonly appears to help stave off Alzheimer's disease.
- The researchers point to nonconformist attitudes as a potential trait that helps keep seniors independent.
While there have been many memorable (and quickly forgotten) moments in this election cycle, the NY Times interview with Bernie Sanders produced one of the most insightful clues to his character. "I'm not good at backslapping," he says. "I'm not good at pleasantries. If you have your birthday, I'm not going to call you up to congratulate you, so you'll love me and you'll write nice things about me. That's not what I do. Never have."
Sanders's supporters love his curmudgeonly nature as much as his one-pointed agenda focus. Maybe it's not nature as much as nurture, however. In fact, perhaps he's just been trying to protect himself from Alzheimer's disease.
Alright, that's probably not the reason, but as new research from Switzerland-based institutions, the University of Geneva and the University Hospitals of Geneva, claims, seniors that are a little rough around the edges socially seem to have a protective shield around their memories.
Alzheimer's is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder. Up to 70 percent of dementia cases are due to this disease. Early onset involves forgetting recent events. As it progresses, victims become irritable, lose motivation, become easily disoriented, and have trouble expressing themselves. Thus far genetics seems to be the driving factor, though head injuries, diabetes, hypertension, and depression have all been implicated.
Researchers have tried to develop a vaccine or medicine to combat it for decades. Alzheimer's patients display excessive plaque buildup and neurofibrillary tangles in the brain. While there are means for fighting it, including reading, regular exercise, and maintaining a healthy weight, researchers have struggled to identify means for reversing it.
For this study, which will be published in the journal Neurobiology of Aging, researchers followed a group of 65 senior citizens (aged 65 or older) for five years. During that period they repeatedly tested amyloid accumulation and brain deterioration. They also decided to monitor for nonbiological factors, such as cognitive aptitude and personality tests. It appears that curiosity and non-agreeableness are two traits shared by those who are best protected from the disease.
Professor Panteleimon Giannakopoulos, who directed this study, puts it best:
"A high level of agreeableness characterizes highly adaptive personalities, who want above all to be in line with the wishes of others, to avoid conflict, and to seek cooperation. This differs from extraversion. You can be very extroverted and not very pleasant, as are narcissistic personalities, for example. The important determinant is the relationship to the other: do we adapt to others at our own expenses?"
Photo by Agence Photographuqie BSIP / Getty Images
Seniors that refuse to conform with the pack seem better equipped to combat the ravages of dementia. Being open to new experiences also proves effective. This makes sense, given that groupthink often dictates stability and reliability. We already know that exercises like learning a language or musical instruments help create new neural pathways (neurogenesis) at every age. Trying out new things keeps your brain healthy.
Just as Alzheimer's is progressive, it appears that therapeutic methods involving novelty or consistent learning helps keep brains strong even after neurological insults. The psychiatrist Norman Doidge has written about a nonagenarian nun that, after suffering a stroke that destroyed a large part of her brain, maintained perfect cognitive health by reading and doing crossword puzzles every day. During her autopsy doctors noticed a large region of her brain tissue was dead. She was able to co-opt other regions through sheer perseverance.
While Giannakopoulos and his team do not know why these qualities seem to reduce risk, they plan on continuing this research. They admit that changing one's personality, especially at an advanced age, is extremely challenging. That said, you can change your brain at any age. We should aim to keep it as healthy as possible for as long as possible. It seems that the best way to do this is to stay curious and be kind—just not too kind.
Could Alzheimer's be prevented with a simple vaccine? This startup posits that it can.
Could Alzheimer's—a devastating degenerative disease that affects millions of people a year—be prevented with a simple vaccine? Lou Reese, the co-founder of start-up United Neuroscience, believes that it's a very real possibility that we could see within our lifetime. And it might even help us live longer, because as Lou puts it, "the largest gains in human longevity ever are debatably attributed to vaccine technology."