Saturday, April 24, 2010

How to fight mental aging process

Exercise may tackle and slow down senile memory and cognitive disorders which are indistinguishable from Alzheimer's, researchers say.

Scientists have not achieved an accurate definition to distinguish Alzheimer's and the normal aging process; however several differences are identified.

Alzheimer's kills neurons and therefore the cells and their connections disappear, while during a normal aging, cells become less connected and experience a harder time sending messages.

Moreover, Alzheimer's is believed to target a different spot in the hippocampus, the brain's memory center. Aging process is inevitable but researchers in the University of Illinois' Center for Healthy Minds have told AP that it could be slowed down using a variety of methods; neither of which is totally approved.

Physical exercise is the best-proven prescription so far. Studies have shown starting exercise at any age may increase brain activity patterns. Other options are not well-studied; brain-training games from doing crossword puzzles to various computer-based brain-training programs have been recommended to keep brain sharp. Scientists believe some medication can also be helpful.

Animal studies have indicated promising effects from guanfacine, low-dose estrogen and drugs that might mimic or ramp up brain signaling.

All you need to know: Alzheimer's disease

Alzheimer's disease (AD), the most common cause of dementia, is the loss of intellectual and social abilities severe enough to interfere with daily functioning.

AD which usually develops in individuals aged 65 or more, slowly leads to memory impairment, behavioral changes and dementia; it affects how people understand, think, remember and communicate.

Researchers believe the number of AD cases will quadruple to around 106 million people by the year 2050. More than half of the world's AD sufferers are in Asia and the number is predicted to rise to 62.8 million by 2050.

Many believe Alzheimer's begins to attack the brain years before symptoms appear, therefore determining what causes the disease and who's susceptible to it are critical in preventing or slowing down the disease.

Etiology While the causes of Alzheimer's are not very clear, it is obvious that the neurons in certain brain locations begin to die in sufferers leading to lowered neurotransmitter levels. Dr. Alois Alzheimer, a German neurologist, discovered the disease in 1906 while examining the brain of a woman who had died after years of progressive dementia.

He found abnormal clumps and irregular knots in the woman's brain tissue. Today, these clumps (now called plaques) and knots (now called tangles) are considered hallmarks of Alzheimer's disease.

Alzheimer's sufferers tend to have lower SORL1 levels in their blood which in turn leads to the deposition of greater amounts of amyloid beta peptide (plaques) in brain nerve cells and the inflammatory response subsequently causes Alzheimer's.

Risk Factors Alzheimer's is a complex disease caused by a combination of factors including infection, reduced circulation and genetic susceptibility. The main risk factors include, - Age.

Alzheimer's usually affects people older than 65, but can also affect younger individuals. The number of affected persons, in individuals beyond the age of 65, doubles every 5 years. The risk is increased by 50% in individuals older than 85 years old. - Heredity.

The risk of developing Alzheimer's appears to be slightly higher if a first-degree relative has the disease. Although the role of genetics is unexplained in AD, there are a number of genetic mutations believed to be responsible for increasing the risk of the disease in certain families. - Gender.

The disease is about twice as common in women as they live longer. - Lifestyle. Factors like high blood pressure, high cholesterol and poorly controlled diabetes, which increase heart disease risk, are responsible for developing Alzheimer's.

It is believed that remaining mentally active throughout one's life, especially in the later years, reduces the risk of AD. - Obesity. High insulin levels in obese people can increase the risk of AD. Diabetics are also at a higher risk for the disease. - Nutritional deficiencies. People with AD tend to have low levels of vitamin B12, B3 and Zinc. - Education levels.

Some researchers claim the more educate a person is the less likely he/she is to develop AD, as they have more brain synapses. - Mood disorders. People who tend to experience psychological distress and negative emotions such as depression and anxiety are more prone to develop AD. - Toxicity.

Many believe overexposure to certain trace metals or chemicals (deposits of aluminum in the brain) can cause Alzheimer's. - Head injury. Serious traumatic head injuries (a concussion with a prolonged loss of consciousness) have been linked to future Alzheimer's. - Hormone replacement therapy (HRT).

The exact role of hormone replacement therapy in the development of dementia is not yet clear. - Down syndrome. Individuals with Down syndrome experience premature aging; therefore, they are at a higher risk for age-related health conditions like Alzheimer's. Signs and Symptoms Alzheimer's disease, an irreversible, progressive, degenerative brain disease, causes more than simple forgetfulness that everyone may experience.

As the early Alzheimer's symptoms progress slowly, diagnosis is often delayed. Individuals who are frightened by the signs keep them hidden; therefore families often fail to realize the problem until it is too late.

The course of the disease varies from one person to another. Eight years is the average length of time between the diagnosis of Alzheimer's to death. Survival begins to decline three years after diagnosis, however many live more than a decade with the disease.

Alzheimer's which may start with slight memory loss and confusion, eventually leads to irreversible mental impairment that destroys a person's ability to remember, reason, learn and imagine. Most AD sufferers show certain symptoms:

1. Memory loss affecting daily function- At its onset, Alzheimer's disease is marked by periods of forgetfulness, especially of recent events or simple directions. But what begins as mild forgetfulness persists and worsens. AD sufferers may repeat actions and forget conversations or appointments. They frequently forget names even the names of family members and everyday objects. As Alzheimer's disease progresses, severe short term memory loss becomes more apparent. Individuals are able to recall past events but are incapable of remembering recent events.

2. Problems with abstract thinking- People with Alzheimer's initially have trouble balancing their checkbook, eventually they have difficulty recognizing and dealing with numbers, and finally they cannot remember what the numbers mean.

3. Misplacing things- Sufferers routinely misplace things, often putting them in illogical locations: an iron in the freezer or a wristwatch in the sugar bowl.

4. Difficulty in performing familiar tasks- AD patients have trouble with routine tasks requiring sequential steps, such as preparing a meal. Advanced cases forget how to do even the most basic tasks.

5. Disorientation of time and place- AD sufferers often lose their sense of time and date, and find themselves lost in familiar surroundings.

6. Problems with language- Sufferers forget simple words or substitute words, making sentences difficult to understand. Eventually, reading and writing are also affected.

7. Poor or decreased judgment- Alzheimer's is characterized by greater difficulty in doing things that require planning, decision making and judgment. Solving everyday problems, like what to do when food is burning on the stove, becomes increasingly difficult and sooner or later impossible. These individuals also do not pay much attention to their hygiene and health and are not dressed according to season.

8. Extreme changes in mood and behavior- Patients exhibit varied mood swings for no apparent reason.

9. Personality changes- AD patients become confused, suspicious or withdrawn. They may also become apathic, fearful or act out of character. Sufferers may express distrust in others, show increased stubbornness or withdraw from society. Depression and restlessness often coexists with Alzheimer's disease.

10. Loss of initiative- In advanced stages sufferers become passive, and require cues and prompting to become involved. They wander without purpose and experience incontinence.

A decline in the sense of smell often occurs as early as two years prior to the start of mental decline in AD patients. The rate at which the sense of smell is lost can predict how rapidly cognitive functioning is lost.

Diagnosis Alzheimer's disease often goes unrecognized or is misdiagnosed in its early stages. Early and accurate diagnosis of AD gives patients and their families, time to plan for the future.

There is currently no single test which can accurately diagnose Alzheimer's disease, therefore a range of assessments and laboratory tests are used to rule out other possible diseases causing memory loss (undetected strokes, Parkinson's disease, several medications).

Taking a complete medical history, performing thorough physical and mental examinations, and neuropsychological testing along with certain laboratory tests and brain imaging can help doctors rule out other potential causes of the dementia.

Genetic testing for Alzheimer's can tell whether or not a person carries the genetic mutations believed to be associated with the disease.

Prevention Delaying the onset of Alzheimer's is an important step in fighting the disease. While there is no proven way to prevent AD, there are a number of recommendations: - Healthy aging. Scientists believe improving the cardiovascular health by losing weight, exercising and controlling high blood pressure can help prevent Alzheimer's disease. - Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

NSAIDs such as ibuprofen (Advil and Motrin), naproxen sodium (Aleve) and indomethacin (Indocin) can reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer's. - Statins.

These drugs (atorvastatin (Lipitor), rosuvastatin (Crestor) and simvastatin (Zocor)) are used to lower cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of Alzheimer's disease. - A selective estrogen receptor molecules (SERMs) called raloxifene (Evista) is used to protect against bone loss associated with osteoporosis; it lowers the risk of developing mild cognitive impairment which precedes Alzheimer's. - Healthy diet.

A well-balanced diet rich in fiber, antioxidants and polyphenols (fruit and vegetables) can help delay the onset of AD. - Herbal remedies. Herbs such as Butcher's broom, Ginkgo biloba extract, Kava Kava, Curcumin, rosmarinic acid, the Chinese herb (qian ceng ta) and valerian root are effective in preventing AD. - Avoiding alcohol, cigarette smoke, processed foods, environmental toxins especially aluminum and mercury. - Biking, walking, swimming and golf are the most effective sports which can reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. - Mental fitness.

Many believe advanced education, lifelong mental exercise (board games, cross word puzzles, reading) and learning can promote the growth of additional synapses and delay the onset of dementia.

Researchers claim being bilingual (speaking at least two languages every day for 50 years or more) can reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer's. - Many drugs should be avoided as they adversely affect CNS by increasing confusion and lethargy.

These drugs include sedatives (benzodiazepines), anticholinergic drugs (tricyclic antidepressants), antihistamines, antipsychotics and benztropine.

Treatment Although there is no cure for Alzheimer's, there are medications which can help improve the quality of life in sufferers by slowing down the process of the disease and improving symptoms secondary to AD such as insomnia, wandering, anxiety, agitation and depression. - Cholinesterase inhibitors This group of medications (donepezil (Aricept), rivastigmine (Exelon) and galantamine (Reminyl)) improves the brain's neurotransmitters levels.

Donepezil can delay the onset of Alzheimer's for about a year in people who have mild cognitive impairment (MCI) in the absence of dementia. - Memantine (Namenda) It is the first drug approved to treat moderate to severe stages of Alzheimer's.

Complications In advanced stages sufferers may lose all ability to care for themselves which makes them more prone to additional health problems such as pneumonia, infections and fractures.

Healthy lifestyles prevent dementia

A new study shows that individuals can easily prevent vascular cognitive impairment, a common form of dementia, with healthy lifestyles.

Vascular cognitive impairment (VCI) is the second most common form of dementia often mistaken for Alzheimer's.

The condition is characterized by cognitive impairment due to or associated with vascular factors, such as narrowed or blocked cerebral arteries.

According to the study published in Mayo Clinic Women's HealthSource, it is possible to prevent or postpone VCI as its vascular risk factors are treatable.

Scientists believe individuals can tackle the condition by lowering blood pressure, quitting smoking and keeping blood sugar and cholesterol levels under control.

VCI shares Alzheimer's symptoms such as confusion, agitation, language and memory problems, and unsteady gait and falls.

On the contrary to AD, a declining ability to organize thoughts and actions should be considered the first symptom of the condition.

Study finds diet to stave off dementia

A diet rich in olive oil, nuts, fish, poultry and certain fruits and vegetables can reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease (AD).

According to a study published in Archives of Neurology, individuals who eat nutrients specifically selected for brain health are 40 percent less likely to experience stroke, and subsequently AD.

Foods such as omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, vitamin E, antioxidants and folate are brain tonic. Vitamin B12 and saturated fatty acids, commonly found in red meat and butter, on the other hand, can boost dementia.

Folate is believed to cut AD risk through reducing the circulating levels of the blood homocysteine, while saturated fatty acids may contribute to dementia by encouraging blood clot formation, the study found.

A diet rich in olive oil-based salad dressing, nuts, fish, tomatoes, poultry, fruits and cruciferous and green leafy vegetables but poor in red meat, butter and high-fat dairy products has the most anti-Alzheimer's properties.

"Diet is probably the easiest way to modify disease risk," said lead researcher Yian Gu, stressing that prevention is the most effective measure in fighting dementia.

Too much bread causes heart disease in woman

Women who eat lots of high glycemic index (GI) carbohydrates are more vulnerable to developing cardiovascular diseases in the long run, a new study says.

GI is an indicator of how quickly a food raises blood sugar levels. Low GI foods such as beans, lentils and nuts, hence, release sugar into the bloodstream more slowly, making the individual feel 'fuller' for a longer time.

White bread, doughnuts, rice, ice-cream and refined breakfast cereals, such as cornflakes, are classified as high GI foods.

According to the study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, women eating the most carbohydrates overall are at a double risk of heart disease; 25 percent of women belong to this group.

"A high consumption of carbohydrates from high glycemic index foods, rather than the overall quantity of carbohydrates consumed, appears to influence the risk of developing coronary heart disease," said lead researcher Sabina Sieri.

Such an association, however, was not reported in men. The difference in the underlying mechanism through which women and men break down and absorb sugars and fats is the main reason behind the finding.

"We tentatively suggest that the adverse effects of a high glycemic diet in women are mediated by sex-related differences … but further prospective studies are required to verify a lack of association of a high dietary glycemic load with (heart) disease in men," scientists concluded.

Omega-3 can fight colon malignancies

Adopting a diet rich in fish oil and other omega-3 fatty acids can lower the risk of developing colon malignancies, a new study finds.

Previous studies had reported that taking fish oil supplementations is heart and brain tonic, can fight inflammation and has cancer-fighting properties.

The supplements, however, are reported not to be effective in improving the cognitive abilities in the elderly.

According to the study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, the consumption of increased levels of omega-3 can halve the risk of colon cancer; the most prominent benefit is shown in white Americans.

Eicosapentaenoic acids (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acids (DHA), the two main fatty acids found in fish oil, are linked with the reduced risk of colon cancer reported in omega-3.

While omega-6 does not influence the risk of developing colon cancer, individuals taking higher amounts of omega-6 fatty acids in relation to omega-3s are more vulnerable to the disease.

Excessive sugar bad for heart: Study

While excessive sugar had long been known as a factor contributing to obesity, diabetes and heart disease, a new study links it to high levels of bad cholesterol.

Aiming to prevent rather than simply treat disease, health officials had recently urged FDA to start regulating the sodium intake in foods. The new study adds to mounting pressure on food companies to make their foods healthier.

According to the study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, individuals who eat more added sugar are at a greater risk of higher blood levels of triglycerides. Eating large amounts of added sugar was also associated with a tripled risk of having low HDL levels, the major risk factor for heart disease.

"Just like eating a high-fat diet can increase your levels of triglycerides and high cholesterol, eating sugar can also affect those same lipids," said lead researcher Miriam Vos.

Scientists, therefore, urged individuals to limit their sugar consumption, recommending them to follow the existing guidelines in which women should eat no more than 100 calories of added processed sugar per day — six teaspoons, 25 grams, while men should keep it to just 150 calories — nine teaspoons, 37.5 grams.

Vitamin B lowers heart disease risk

Individuals following a diet rich in vitamin B6 and folic acid are less vulnerable to die from cardiovascular diseases, a new study finds.

While previous studies had reported controversial results regarding the influence of vitamin B and folate on reducing the risk of heart disease, the new research approves the compounds to be effective.

"This study is the first to show that high dietary intakes of folate and vitamin B6 were associated with a reduced risk of heart failure mortality for men," the authors noted.

According to the study published in Stroke, increased dietary intake of folate and vitamin B6 can protect men from heart failure-related death. As for women, following such a diet reduces their risk of dying from stroke, coronary heart disease and cardiovascular disease.

Folate and vitamin B6 are believed to reduce the risk of mortality from cardiovascular events by lowering serum levels of homocysteine, an amino acid directly linked to heart disease.

Vitamin B12 intake, however, is not associated with reduced mortality risk, the study reported.

Sourse of Vitamin B6: