Study: Blood Test May Spot Brain Changes of Early Alzheimer’s

A simple blood test helped pinpoint the early signs of Alzheimer’s in a new study.

Up to two decades before people develop Alzheimer’s symptoms such as memory loss and confusion, harmful clumps of amyloid beta protein begin to accumulate in their brain, researchers explained.

But it’s possible to measure levels of amyloid beta in the blood and use that information to determine whether the protein has accumulated in the brain, they added.

Combining blood amyloid levels with two other major Alzheimer’s risk factors — age and the genetic variant APOE4 — can identify people who have early Alzheimer’s brain changes with 94% accuracy, according to the scientists from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

The study included 150 adults over age 50 who had no thinking or memory problems.

The blood test may be even more sensitive than the current gold standard — a PET brain scan — at detecting early amyloid accumulation in the brain, according to the authors.

The findings advance efforts to have a blood test to identify people who will develop Alzheimer’s before they have symptoms, and such a test could be available in doctors’ offices within a few years, the researchers said.

They added that the benefits of the blood test would be even greater once there are treatments to stop the progress of Alzheimer’s disease.

The researchers also noted that one difficulty in clinical trials of Alzheimer’s drugs is identifying patients who have Alzheimer’s brain changes but no symptoms. The blood test could provide an efficient way to find people with early signs of the disease to participate in drug clinical trials.

“Right now, we screen people for clinical trials with brain scans, which is time-consuming and expensive, and enrolling participants takes years,” explained study senior author Dr. Randall Bateman, a professor of neurology.

“But with a blood test, we could potentially screen thousands of people a month,” he said in a Washington University news release. “That means we can more efficiently enroll participants in clinical trials, which will help us find treatments faster, and could have an enormous impact on the cost of the disease as well as the human suffering that goes with it.”

Maria Carrillo, chief science officer the Alzheimer’s Association, said such a test would be welcomed.

“There is a great need for simple, reliable, inexpensive, noninvasive and easily available tools to support early detection and accurate diagnosis of Alzheimer’s,” she said.

“That said, while the results are encouraging, none of these tests is ready for use in doctors’ offices. They need to be verified in larger and more diverse populations,” Carrillo added.

“In fact, rather than in doctors’ offices, the first uses for these new techniques/technologies may be in clinical trials to identify possible participants who are most likely to benefit from the tested intervention,” she said.

The study was published in the journal Neurology.

Source: HealthDay


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Sudoku, Crosswords Could Make Your Brain Years Younger

Mornings spent figuring out Sudoku or finessing a crossword could spell better health for aging brains, researchers say.

In a study of over 19,000 British adults aged 50 and over who were tracked for 25 years, the habit of doing word or number puzzles seemed to help keep minds nimble over time.

“We’ve found that the more regularly people engage with puzzles such as crosswords and Sudoku, the sharper their performance is across a range of tasks assessing memory, attention and reasoning,” said research leader Dr. Anne Corbett, of the University of Exeter Medical School.

“The improvements are particularly clear in the speed and accuracy of their performance,” she added in a university news release. “In some areas, the improvement was quite dramatic — on measures of problem-solving, people who regularly do these puzzles performed equivalent to an average of eight years younger compared to those who don’t.”

Does that translate to protection against Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia? The study “can’t say” at this point, Corbett said, “but this research supports previous findings that indicate regular use of word and number puzzles helps keep our brains working better for longer.”

The study was conducted online. Participants were assessed each year, and they were asked how often they did word and number puzzles. They were also given a series of tests measuring attention, reasoning and memory, to help assess changes in their brain function.

The result: The more often participants did word and number puzzles, the better their performance on the brain tests, Corbett’s group found.

Although the study couldn’t prove cause-and-effect, some differences were significant. Brain function for those who did word puzzles was equivalent to 10 years younger than their actual age on tests of grammatical reasoning, and eight years younger than their age on tests of short-term memory.

The findings are outlined in two papers published in the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, and add to results presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in 2018.

The study is now expanding into other countries, including the United States.

Brain experts in the United States weren’t surprised by the findings.

The large, decades-long study “confirmed what your grandmother told you: ‘If you don’t use it, you lose it,'” said Dr. Gayatri Devi. She’s a neurologist specializing in memory disorders at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.

The fact that something as simple as puzzle-solving can take years off the brain is “a comforting finding,” Devi said.

She stressed that exercising the body can do the same. “Physical exercise is one proven way to keep our brains and our body healthy,” she said.

Dr. Gisele Wolf-Klein directs geriatric education at Northwell Health in Great Neck, N.Y. She said interventions to help the brain stay healthy longer are sorely needed.

“As older patients live longer, the growing number of Alzheimer’s patients represents a major challenge for health care systems worldwide,” Wolf-Klein said. “Currently, the pharmaceutical industry has yet to propose any promising medical treatments. So, searches for lifestyle interventions that might preserve cognition [thinking] has become a priority.”

“This study further supports many [prior] studies highlighting the benefits of mind exercises,” she said. It also “reinforces the need for all of us to keep our minds as active and engaged as possible.”

Source: HealthDay


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Eating Nuts May Improve Brain Health

Long-term, high nut consumption could be the key to better cognitive health in older people according to new research from the University of South Australia.

In a study of 4822 Chinese adults aged 55+ years, researchers found that eating more than 10 grams of nuts a day was positively associated with better mental functioning, including improved thinking, reasoning and memory.

Lead researcher, UniSA’s Dr Ming Li, says the study is the first to report an association between cognition and nut intake in older Chinese adults, providing important insights into increasing mental health issues (including dementia) faced by an ageing population.

“Population aging is one of the most substantial challenges of the twenty-first century. Not only are people living longer, but as they age, they require additional health support which is placing unprecedented pressure on aged-care and health services,” Dr Li says.

“In China, this is a massive issue, as the population is ageing far more rapidly than almost any other country in the world.

“Improved and preventative health care – including dietary modifications – can help address the challenges that an aging population presents.

“By eating more than 10 grams (or two teaspoons) of nuts per day older people could improve their cognitive function by up to 60 per cent– compared to those not eating nuts – effectively warding off what would normally be experienced as a natural two-year cognition decline.”

China has one of the fastest growing aging populations. In 2029, China’s population is projected to peak at 1.44 billion, with the ratio of young to old dramatically imbalanced by the rising ranks of the elderly. By 2050, 330 million Chinese will be over age 65, and 90.4 million will be over age 80, representing the world’s largest population of this most elderly age group.

More broadly, the World Health Organization says that by 2020, the number of people aged 60 years and older will outnumber children younger than five years old.

The UniSA study analysed nine waves of China Health Nutrition Survey data collected over 22 years, finding that 17 per cent of participants were regular consumers of nuts (mostly peanuts). Dr Li says peanuts have specific anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects which can alleviate and reduce cognitive decline.

“Nuts are known to be high in healthy fats, protein and fibre with nutritional properties that can lower cholesterol and improve cognitive health,” Dr Li says.

“While there is no cure for age-related cognition decline and neurogenerative disease, variations in what people eat are delivering improvements for older people.”

The World Health Organization estimates that globally, the number of people living with dementia is at 47 million.

By 2030, this is projected to rise to 75 million and by 2050, global dementia cases are estimated to almost triple. China has the largest population of people with dementia.

“As people age, they naturally experience changes to conceptual reasoning, memory, and processing speed. This is all part of the normal ageing process,” Dr Li says

“But age is also the strongest known risk factor for cognitive disease. If we can find ways to help older people retain their cognitive health and independence for longer – even by modifying their diet – then this absolutely worth the effort.”

Source: University of South Australia

Study: Eating Mushrooms Protect Brain Health

Maria Cohut wrote . . . . . . . . .

Researchers at the National University of Singapore (NUS) near Clementi hypothesized that eating mushrooms could help preserve cognitive function in late adulthood. So, they conducted a new study to see whether they could find any evidence in this respect.

Their findings — which now appear in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease — suggest that the mushrooms common in Singaporean cuisine may help reduce the risk of mild cognitive impairment (MCI).

The study lasted 6 years, from 2011 to 2017, and it included 663 participants aged 60 and older at baseline. The researchers recruited them through the Diet and Healthy Aging project.

The investigators focused on the consumption of some of the most common mushrooms that people in Singapore eat:

  • golden mushrooms
  • oyster mushrooms
  • shiitake mushrooms
  • white button mushrooms
  • dried mushrooms
  • canned button mushrooms

The team defined mushroom portion sizes as three-quarters of a cup of cooked mushrooms per portion, weighing about 150 grams, on average.

To gauge the association between eating mushrooms and MCI risk, the researchers also measured the participants’ cognitive abilities.

According to first study author Lei Feng, who is an assistant professor at NUS: “People with MCI are still able to carry out their normal daily activities. So, what we had to determine in this study is whether these [people] had poorer performance on standard neuropsychologist tests than other people of the same age and education background.”

“Neuropsychological tests are specifically designed tasks that can measure various aspects of a person’s cognitive abilities. In fact, some of the tests we used in this study are adopted from commonly used IQ test battery, the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale,” he adds.

The team also conducted targeted interviews and asked the participants to undergo a series of tests measuring aspects of physical and psychological functioning. “The interview,” Feng states, “takes into account demographic information, medical history, psychological factors, and dietary habits.”

Then, he continues, “A nurse will measure blood pressure, weight, height, handgrip, and walking speed.” Participants “also do a simple screen test on cognition, depression, anxiety.”

Finally, the team conducted 2-hour assessments of each person’s neuropsychological health and rated them on a dementia symptom scale.

‘A dramatic effect on cognitive decline?’

The researchers’ analysis revealed that eating more than two portions of cooked mushrooms per week could lead to a 50 percent lower risk of MCI. Feng says that “[t]his correlation is surprising and encouraging.”

“It seems that a commonly available single ingredient could have a dramatic effect on cognitive decline.” – Lei Feng

This is only a correlative observation, but the team believes that there may be a causal relationship involved.

Study co-author Dr. Irwin Cheah notes that the scientists are “very interested in a compound called ergothioneine (ET), […] a unique antioxidant and anti-inflammatory which humans are unable to synthesize on their own.”

However, “it can be obtained from dietary sources, one of the main ones being mushrooms.” The idea that ET may have a direct effect on the risk of cognitive decline, Dr. Cheah explains, came from a previous study that appeared in the journal Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications.

That research found that people with MCI had lower blood levels of the compound than healthy peers of the same age. Also, the researchers note, mushrooms contain many other substances whose exact role in brain health is not yet clear.

These include hericenones, erinacines, scabronines, and dictyophorines — a series of compounds that could contribute to the growth of neurons (brain cells).

Substances derived from edible mushrooms could also inhibit the production of beta-amyloid and phosphorylated tau, two toxic proteins whose overaccumulation in the brain coincides with the development of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.

In the future, the researchers would like to conduct randomized controlled trial testing the effect of ET and other plant-derived compounds on brain health — specifically verifying their protective role against cognitive decline.

Source: Medical News Today

Orange Juice, Leafy Greens and Berries May Help Decreased Memory Loss

Eating leafy greens, dark orange and red vegetables and berry fruits, and drinking orange juice may be associated with a lower risk of memory loss over time in men, according to a study published in the November 21, 2018, online issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

“One of the most important factors in this study is that we were able to research and track such a large group of men over a 20-year period of time, allowing for very telling results,” said study author Changzheng Yuan, ScD, of Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston. “Our studies provide further evidence dietary choices can be important to maintain your brain health.”

The study looked at 27,842 men with an average age of 51 who were all health professionals. Participants filled out questionnaires about how many servings of fruits, vegetables and other foods they had each day at the beginning of the study and then every four years for 20 years. A serving of fruit is considered one cup of fruit or ½ cup of fruit juice. A serving of vegetables is considered one cup of raw vegetables or two cups of leafy greens.

Participants also took subjective tests of their thinking and memory skills at least four years before the end of the study, when they were an average age of 73. The test is designed to detect changes that people can notice in how well they are remembering things before those changes would be detected by objective cognitive tests. Changes in memory reported by the participants would be considered precursors to mild cognitive impairment. The six questions include “Do you have more trouble than usual remembering a short list of items, such as a shopping list?” and “Do you have more trouble than usual following a group conversation or a plot in a TV program due to your memory?”

A total of 55 percent of the participants had good thinking and memory skills, 38 percent had moderate skills, and 7 percent had poor thinking and memory skills.

The participants were divided into five groups based on their fruit and vegetable consumption. For vegetables, the highest group ate about six servings per day, compared to about two servings for the lowest group. For fruits, the top group ate about three servings per day, compared to half a serving for the bottom group.

The men who consumed the most vegetables were 34 percent less likely to develop poor thinking skills than the men who consumed the least amount of vegetables. A total of 6.6 percent of men in the top group developed poor cognitive function, compared to 7.9 percent of men in the bottom group.

The men who drank orange juice every day were 47 percent less likely to develop poor thinking skills than the men who drank less than one serving per month. This association was mainly observed for regular consumption of orange juice among the oldest men. A total of 6.9 percent of men who drank orange juice every day developed poor cognitive function, compared to 8.4 percent of men who drank orange juice less than once a month. This difference in risk was adjusted for age but not adjusted for other factors related to reported changes in memory.

The men who ate the most fruit each day were less likely to develop poor thinking skills, but that association was weakened after researchers adjusted for other dietary factors that could affect the results, such as consumption of vegetables, fruit juice, refined grains, legumes and dairy products.

The researchers also found that people who ate larger amounts of fruits and vegetables 20 years earlier were less likely to develop thinking and memory problems, whether or not they kept eating larger amounts of fruits and vegetables about six years before the memory test.

The study does not show that eating fruits and vegetables and drinking orange juice reduces memory loss; it only shows a relationship between them.

A limitation of the study was that participants’ memory and thinking skills were not tested at the beginning of the study to see how they changed over the course of the study. However, because all participants completed professional training, they can be assumed to have started with relatively high cognitive function in early adult life. In addition, the study participants were all male health professionals such as dentists, optometrists, and veterinarians. Thus, the results may not apply to women and other groups of men.

Source: American Academy of Neurology