Nutty about Brain Health?

Last year, we posted news of an epigenetic diet rich in broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, fava beans and kale that claimed to reduce cancer and degenerative brain changes.  Despite its alleged health benefits, the diet has found few followers among your average American carnivore.

And although it’s unlikely that we will ever see nutritionists advocating a hamburger, beer and potato chip diet, maybe more people will be tempted to reduce their risk of Alzheimer’s disease and memory problems by following the dietary advice of a new study published in the May 2, 2012, online issue of Neurology®.

This research showed shows that eating foods such as fish, chicken, salad dressing and nuts, which contain omega-3 fatty acids, is associated with lower blood levels of beta-amyloid, a protein related to Alzheimer’s.

The study followed 1,219 people 65 and older, who were free of dementia. Participants, provided information about their diet for an average of 1.2 years before their blood was tested for beta-amyloid.

The researchers looked specifically at 10 nutrients, including saturated fatty acids, omega-3 and omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids, mono-unsaturated fatty acid, vitamin E, vitamin C, beta-carotene, vitamin B12, folate and vitamin D.

They found that the more omega-3 fatty acids a person ate, the lower their blood beta-amyloid levels. Consuming one gram of omega-3 per day – the equivalent of approximately half a fillet of salmon per week, lowered blood beta-amyloid levels by 20-30%.

“It was a continuous association.  More and more intake of omega-3s was associated with lower and lower levels of beta-amyloid in the blood.  There was no threshold effect,” author Nikolaos Scarmeas, MD, from  Columbia University Medical Center

The association between omega-3 consumption and beta-amyloid was unaffected by whether or not a person took supplements – meaning if two people consumed the same amount of omega-3s, one through food and the other through supplements, the person who consumed more omega-3 rich foods typically had lower blood levels of beta-amyloid.

Other nutrients were not associated with changes in plasma beta-amyloid levels. And results stayed the same after adjusting for age, education, gender, ethnicity, amount of calories consumed and presence of the APOE gene, a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease.

The beneficial impact of omega-3 on brain health would fall in line with past studies of the nutrient.  “Previous studies have suggested that omega-3s and other aspects of diet may be related to brain function,” Scarmeas said. “Here we demonstrate one possible mechanism could be through amyloid, the main biological mechanism that relates to Alzheimer’s disease.”

Scarmeas speculated that omega-3s may be able to reduce oxidative stress on the brain and the resulting vascular damage, or even have some kind of impact on beta-amyloid in the brain.

And although there is not enough data yet to suggest omega 3’s and beta-amyloid are directly related, I, for one, will be ordering the pecan crusted chicken salad for lunch today, dressing on the plate!

Middle Age Spread Linked to Later Life Dementia

Need a new and compelling reason to lose weight?  Word on Health thinks we’ve found one of the best ones. 

According to a new study, published in Neurology, being overweight or obese during middle age may increase the risk of certain dementias such as Alzheimer’s Disease.

Researchers from the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden, studied information from the Swedish Twin Registry on 8,534 twins age 65 or older. Of those, 350 were diagnosed with dementia and 114 had possible dementia.

Information on participant’s height and weight had been taken 30 years earlier. Participants were classified as either underweight, normal weight, overweight or obese according to their body mass index (BMI). Nearly 30% (2,541) of the twins, were either overweight or obese during middle age. Researchers learned that this group had an 80% higher risk of developing dementia, Alzheimer’s disease or vascular dementia in later life compared to people with normal BMI.

The results remained the same after considering other factors, such as education, diabetes and vascular disease. A total of 26% of those with no dementia had been overweight in midlife, compared to 36% of those with questionable dementia and 39% of those with diagnosed dementia.

Three percent of those with no dementia had been obese in midlife, compared to 5% of those with questionable dementia and 7% of those with diagnosed dementia.

In twin pairs where one twin had dementia and one twin did not, there was no significant relationship between weight and dementia in midlife suggesting that genetic and early life environmental factors may contribute to the link.

Currently, 1.6 billion adults are overweight or obese worldwide and over 50% of adults in the United States and Europe fit into this category,” said study author Weili Xu, MD, PhD. “Our results contribute to the growing evidence that controlling body weight or losing weight in middle age could reduce your risk of dementia.”

For us – the diet really does start today, before we’re no longer able to remember our resolution.

No excuse for sleeping on the job!

SRxA Word on Health bloggers know just how hard pharmaceutical and business execs work. The deadlines, the late nights, the weekends and of course, the crazy travel schedules. With all this sleep deprivation you’d think we’d all be forgiven the occasional lapse of judgment.

Not so, says a new study!

Research conducted at Washington State University into the effects of sleep deprivation on executive functioning and published in the January 2010 issue of the journal Sleep has yielded surprising results.

The study looked at 23 subjects, who spent 6.5 consecutive days in a controlled laboratory environment. One group was kept awake for two consecutive nights, while the other was on a normal sleep schedule.

Three times during the experiment, subjects were asked to complete a series of executive tasks that measured working memory, scanning efficiency, resistance to proactive interference and verbal fluency.

The research psychologists found that working memory -a key element of executive functioning- was essentially unaffected by as much as 51 hours of total sleep deprivation. Instead, they saw a degradation of non-executive components such as information intake.

Follow-up studies will examine how distinct components of decision making are affected by sleep deprivation and how this influences the overall decision-making. Ultimately, this may lead to development of interventions that will improve decision-making in emergency responders, police officers, and military personnel for whom getting enough sleep is often not an option.

Meanwhile, with tiredness no longer an acceptable excuse for bad business decisions, we wonder if this mean the end of the executive power-nap?!?