Dementia - New Reasons For Hope
Whereas, many of us are proactive about our fitness, trying to eat better and being mindful when we gain a few extra pounds, we don’t generally think about the health of our brain. A bit of decline seems to be accepted as normal, “oh, I don’t remember names as well,” but as a whole we don’t make an effort to do something about it. The old adage (use it or lose it) does apply, but even staying intellectually challenged isn’t enough. Consider that the incidence of Alzheimer’s is expected to triple over the next fifty years. As people live longer the chances of dementia also increases.
The news isn’t all doom and gloom however. A few new studies pave the way to hope and the sooner you take charge the better the outcome.
LOWER BLOOD PRESSURE
High blood pressure has long been termed (the silent killer) due to the fact it generally has no symptoms, but greatly increases the incidence of heart attack and stroke. Now due to The Sprint Mind Study which followed 9,300 elderly people for 3 years we know that lowering elevated blood pressure also lowers the risk of cognitive decline. The best results were seen in those who lowered their BP below 120/80. If lifestyle changes aren’t enough to lower BP your doctor can prescribe one of several medication options.
A LITTLE ALCOHOL
In a study conducted at the University of Rochester Medical Center Dr. Maiken Nedergaard studied the effect of alcohol consumption on an abundant type of cell found in the brain called glial cells. Glial cells hold neurons in place, insulate them, and supply nutrients and oxygen to them. They also greatly increase the permeability of cells allowing for better mixing of cerebral/ spinal fluid and interstitial fluids aiding in removing waste products. In this study Dr. Nedergarrd found that small amounts of alcohol increase glial cell activity lowing inflammation (one of the main believed causes of dementia). Large amounts of alcohol have previously been proven to increase brain inflammation, so a little goes a long way. So, if you needed an excuse here’s another reason to enjoy that glass of wine or bear, just it keep it to 1 for women and 1-2 for men.
MARIJUANA FOR MEMORY
As crazy as that sounds, a study at the Salk Institute found that the cannabinoids in marijuana lowers inflammation in the brain. It also is the first substance proven to reduce, yes, as in remove the protein plaque molecules associated with Alzheimer’s. Think about this for a minute, Alzheimer’s is believed to be caused by Amyloid beta plaque formation and neuron death due to inflammation. Cannabinoids appear to address both those issues. In addition Cannabinoids have also been shown to reactive parts of the brain that have long been dormant due to neuron damage. The correct amount of cannabinoids has not been established so self-medicating isn’t indicted, but likely less is more here. A little use is probably beneficial. Excess use would likely be counter-productive.
EXERCISE FOR BRAIN HEALTH
Exercise has been touted as mind and body healthy for decades. Functional MRI’s can prove the increased circulation and the fact that key areas of the brain light up during and immediately after exercise. Obviously if the whole body is healthy it is better positioned to maintain a healthier brain. There is a type of lipid molecule (endocannabinoids) made by the body that is similar to THC and used for intracellular signaling. Physical activity results in increased production of endocannabinoids.
There are a few medications that for the first time might do more than treat the symptoms. These medications are anti-amyloid, but still in early stages of study. In the meantime get more exercise, lose some weight, get your BP under 120/80 and maybe enjoy an occasional drink or hit wherever legally appropriate. Sometimes fun can be healthy.
Salk.edu – Cannabinoids remove plaque-forming Alzheimer’s proteins from brain cells
Wikipedia.org – Neuroglia
Time Magazine – New Hope for Alzheimer’s
Neuroscience.stanford.edu – The Night Life of the Brain
NCBI.nlm.nih.gov – Glial Cells and Their Function in the Adult Brain