Tag Archives: Brain
MONDAY June 17, 2013 — A diet high in saturated fat can quickly rob the brain of a key chemical that helps protect against Alzheimer’s disease, according to new research.
In a small study published online Monday in the journal JAMA Neurology, researchers found that dietary saturated fat cut the body’s levels of the chemical apolipoprotein E, also called ApoE, which helps “chaperone” amyloid beta proteins out of the brain.
“People who received a high-saturated-fat, high-sugar diet showed a change in their ApoE, such that the ApoE would be less able to help clear the amyloid,” said research team member Suzanne Craft, a professor of medicine at Wake Forest School of Medicine.
Amyloid beta proteins left loose in the brain are more likely to form plaques that interfere with neuron function, the kind of plaques found in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease.
Diet also directly affected the amount of loose amyloid beta found in cerebrospinal fluid, Craft said. Those on a high-saturated-fat diet had higher levels of amyloid beta in their spinal fluid, while people on a low-saturated-fat diet actually saw a decline in such levels, she said.
“An amyloid that is not cleared — or attached to ApoE to get cleared — has a greater likelihood of becoming this toxic form,” Craft said.
The clinical trial, led by Dr. Angela Hanson of the Veterans Affairs Puget Sound Health Care System in Seattle, involved 20 seniors with normal cognition and 27 with mild thinking impairment, a precursor to Alzheimer’s disease.
The patients, all in their late 60s, were randomly assigned to diets that contained the same amount of calories but were either high or low in saturated fat. The high-saturated-fat diets had 45 percent of total energy coming from fat, and more than a quarter of the total fat came from saturated fats. The low-saturated-fat diets had 25 percent of energy coming from fat, with saturated fat contributing less than 7 percent to total fat.
After just a month, the diets caused changes in the amounts of amyloid beta and ApoE in the study participants’ cerebrospinal fluid, researchers said.
“Diet can really change levels of these toxic proteins and of these mediators that help clear these amyloids,” Craft said. “Diets that are very high in bad cholesterol seem to interfere with ApoE’s ability to clear amyloid.”
One gerontology expert, who wrote an editorial accompanying the study in the journal, didn’t think the link was quite that clear.
Although the study shows that diet can affect brain chemistry, it does not definitely tie diet to a person’s risk for Alzheimer’s disease, said Dr. Deborah Blacker, director of the Gerontology Research Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.
“Is it plausible to say this could affect the risk of having Alzheimer’s pathology in your brain? It’s not showing that,” said Blacker, who also is with the Harvard School of Public Health. “It’s showing that some of the chemicals related to Alzheimer’s pathology can shift in response to dietary factors.”
The study does, however, offer important insight into the value of good nutrition, she said.
“The important lesson from the study is that dietary intervention can change brain amyloid chemistry in largely consistent and apparently meaningful ways, in a short period of time,” Blacker wrote in the editorial. “Does this change clinical practice for those advising patients who want to avoid dementia? Probably not, but it adds another small piece to the growing evidence that taking good care of your heart is probably good for your brain too.”
People focus on diet in terms of weight and heart health, but they overlook that nutrition can be key to cognitive function as well, Craft said.
“Diet is a very underappreciated factor in terms of brain function,” she said. “It’s quite well accepted for your heart and your cholesterol and your blood, but diet is critical for a healthy brain aging. Many of the things the brain needs to function properly — fatty acids, certain amino acids — come only from food.”
For more on a healthy diet for the brain, visit the Alzheimer’s Association.
Posted: June 2013
TUESDAY June 11, 2013 — Sophisticated scans reveal that soccer players who head the ball a lot show changes in the white matter of their brain that mirror those seen in traumatic head injuries.
In addition, they face a higher risk of developing thinking and memory problems, the researchers report.
“We looked at the relationship between heading and changes in the brain and changes in cognitive functions [thinking and memory], and we found that the more heading people do, the more likely we are to find microscopic structural abnormalities in the brain, and they’re more likely to do poorly on cognitive tests, particularly in terms of memory,” said study author Dr. Michael Lipton, associate director of the Gruss Magnetic Resonance Research Center at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and medical director of magnetic resonance imaging at Montefiore Medical Center, both in New York City.
However, Lipton noted, “We cannot say heading caused these changes. We found an association, but in no way can we infer causation. You need a longitudinal study that follows people over time to prove causation.”
Results of the study were released online June 11 in the journal Radiology.
Soccer is the world’s most popular sport. More than 265 million people play the game worldwide, and heading is a common move in soccer. Heading a soccer ball means using your head instead of your feet to play the ball. In competitive games, players head the ball between an average of six and 12 times, according to background information in the study. In this elite level of play, the ball can travel at velocities of 50 miles per hour or more, according to the study.
This isn’t the first study to link heading and changes in the white matter in the brain. In an issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association late last year, Harvard researchers compared soccer players to swimmers, and found changes in the white matter in soccer players.
White matter is the communication network in the brain; it sends messages between neurons (gray matter).
For the current study, Lipton and his colleagues recruited 37 adult amateur soccer players. Their ages ranged from 21 to 44 years old, and the average age was nearly 31. Twenty-eight of the volunteers were men. They played at least one competitive game of soccer each week, and practiced an average of two times a week, according to Lipton. Most had been playing since they were kids.
All underwent a special imaging technique called diffusion tensor magnetic resonance imaging that produces detailed images that show microscopic changes in the white matter of the brain.
The players also filled out a questionnaire about such factors as frequency of heading and prior concussions, and completed a number of tests to measure their thinking and memory skills.
The researchers found that there appears to be a threshold for harm from heading. Below that threshold, there wasn’t as much risk, but there was significantly more risk of brain changes above it. In this study, the threshold was between 885 and 1,550 headers a year for brain changes, and higher than 1,800 headings a year for changes in memory scores.
Lipton said these findings were independent of past concussions.
“People can take some degree of trauma. Not everyone who bumps their head on a cabinet will have concussion symptoms. The question is how much does it take to have a lasting injury? And, that remains an open question, especially in children,” said Lipton.
Because kids’ brains are developing, they might be more susceptible to injuries, noted Lipton. But, on the other hand, he pointed out, children’s brains are also quite adaptable and can recover more easily from conditions such as stroke than adult brains can.
One expert noted that the study showed that even minor insults to the brain can have lasting effects.
“This study shows that even if you don’t have a concussion or a noticeable injury, if you look close enough at the brain, you can see changes. The evidence from these adults seems reasonably compelling that these minor heading events accumulate over time,” said Dr. Michael Bell, director of pediatric neurocritical care at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.
For parents who may be wondering if they should keep their kids from heading soccer balls, Lipton said the evidence isn’t clear-cut enough yet to make a firm recommendation one way or the other.
“Parents have to weigh the evidence and make their own decisions. Our study provides very preliminary evidence that lines up with many of the concerns that parents have, but that needs to be balanced against the fact that this isn’t yet a closed book,” Lipton said.
Bell agreed, and added a counterpoint.
“The data is evolving, and any sort of mild traumatic brain injury may have consequences we don’t understand yet,” Bell said, adding that parents also have to remember that they don’t want to discourage their children from being physically active, because a sedentary lifestyle has other health risks.
Learn more about mild brain injuries from the Brain Injury Association.
Posted: June 2013
The words “marijuana” and “brain damage” usually go in that order in medical literature. An Israeli researchers has flipped them around, finding that THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, may arrest some forms of brain damage in mice. The loco weed already is favored by those who suffer from chronic diseases, not to mention fans of Cypress Hill, Bob Marley and the Grateful Dead.
But pharmacologist Josef Sarne of Tel Aviv University found that a minuscule amount of tetrahydrocannabinol may protect the brain after injuries from seizures, toxic drug exposure or a lack of oxygen.
The amounts wouldn’t qualify as much more than a second-hand whiff of kine bud – the quantity of THC is an order of 1,000 to 10,000 lower than that in a whole spliff.
The new dope on marijuana was published in Behavioural Brain Research and Experimental Brain Research, which are professional journals, not nicknames for HempCon or Burning Man.
Other researchers didn’t tend to Bogart the joint as much. They suggested using high — their word — doses within about half an hour after such injury. Sarne would spread a smaller dose over as much as a week.
The chemical is thought to jump-start biochemical processes that protect brain cells and preserve cognitive function.
Researchers injected mice with a low dose of THC either before or after exposing them to brain trauma. Fellow rodents in a control group got their brains bonked without the dose.
About a month or two later, the mice that got the THC treatment performed better in behavioral tests measuring learning and memory and showed they had greater amounts of neuroprotective chemicals than the control-group mice.
Oddly, it may be brain damage on a small scale that causes the brain to shift into protective mode. Researchers theorize the THC causes minute damage to the brain that helps build resistance and triggers protective measures in the face of more severe injury.
The low dose and long window for administering it would have obvious benefits after an injury, but it also could mean that THC can be given prior to a procedure that may carry risk of brain injury, including interruption of blood flow to the brain during surgery. Sarne believes it also could be safe for regular use among epileptics.
By Anne Krueger
Reviewed by Patricia Quinn, MD
As fast as children whiz from classroom to activity to home and back again, their brains are just as actively and dramatically growing and changing.
“These years are critical for brain development, and what they eat affects focus and cognitive skills,” psychiatrist Drew Ramsey, MD, coauthor of The Happiness Diet, says.
Food is one of many factors that affect a child’s brain development.
The following 10 foods can help kids stay sharp all day long, and affect brain development well into the future.
Eating a high-nutrient protein like eggs (which have nutrients including choline, omega-3s, zinc, and lutein) will help kids concentrate, Beth Saltz, RD, says.
How to Serve It: Fold scrambled eggs into a whole-grain tortilla for a filling breakfast or late-afternoon snack. “The protein-carb combo tides kids over until the next meal with no sugar-induced energy crash,” Saltz says.
2. Greek Yogurt
Fat is important to brain health, says Laura Lagano, RD. A full-fat Greek yogurt (which has more protein that other yogurts) can help keep brain cell membranes flexible, helping them to send and receive information.
How to Serve It: Pack Greek yogurt in lunch with some fun mix-ins: cereal with at least 3 grams of fiber and blueberries for a dose of nutrients called polyphenols.
Or add a few dark chocolate chips. Polyphenols in cocoa are thought to keep the mind sharp by hiking brain blood flow.
Full of folate and vitamins, spinach and kale are part of a healthy diet linked to lower odds of getting dementia later in life. “Kale contains sulforaphane, a molecule that has detoxifying abilities, and diindolylmethane, which helps new brain cells grow,” says Ramsey, coauthor of 50 Shades of Kale.
How to Serve It:
- Whip spinach into smoothies for snack time.
- Add it to omelets.
- Saute it at dinner drizzled with olive oil (the dash of fat helps your body absorb vitamins).
Make chips out of kale: Cut kale from stems/ribs, drizzle with olive oil and a bit of salt, and bake.
4. Purple Cauliflower
Low in sugar, high in fiber, and full of folate and B6 that help regulate mood, memory, and attention, purple cauliflower also delivers inflammation-fighting nutrients called anthocyanins.
How to Serve It: Roast and puree cauliflower to make a nutritious dipping sauce for carrots and other veggies such as peppers, celery, and radishes.
Naturally fatty fish are a good source of vitamin D and omega-3s, which protect the brain against cognitive decline and memory loss. Salmon, tuna, and sardines are all rich in omega-3s.
“The more omega-3s we can get to the brain, the better it will function and the better kids will be able to focus,” says Bonnie Taub-Dix, RD, author of Read It Before You Eat It.
How to Serve It: Grill it, roast it, or add it to a salad or sandwich.
Mothers with deficiency had kids with lower IQs and reading ability, researchers say
WebMD News from HealthDay
By Alan Mozes
THURSDAY, May 23 (HealthDay News) — Mild to moderate iodine deficiency during pregnancy may have a negative long-term impact on children’s brain development, British researchers report.
Low levels of the so-called “trace element” in an expectant mother’s diet appear to put her child at risk of poorer verbal and reading skills during the preteen years, the study authors found. Pregnant women can boost their iodine levels by eating enough dairy products and seafood, the researchers suggested.
The finding, published online May 22 in The Lancet, stems from an analysis of roughly 1,000 mother-child pairs who were tracked until the child reached the age of 9 years.
“Our results clearly show the importance of adequate iodine status during early pregnancy, and emphasize the risk that iodine deficiency can pose to the developing infant,” study lead author Margaret Rayman, of the University of Surrey in Guildford, England, said in a journal news release.
The study authors explained that iodine is critical to the thyroid gland’s hormone production process, which is known to have an impact on fetal brain development.
According to the World Health Organization, iodine “sufficiency” is defined as having a so-called iodine-to-creatinine ratio of 150 micrograms per gram (mcg/g) or more; those with a ratio falling below 150 mcg/g are deemed to be iodine “deficient.”
By examining first-trimester urine sample data collected by a long-term study of parents and children based in Bristol, England, the study authors found that just over two-thirds of the mothers had been iodine-deficient while pregnant.
After adjusting for other factors (such as breast-feeding history and parental education), the researchers found that iodine deficiency during pregnancy raised the child’s risk for having a lower verbal IQ, and poorer reading accuracy and comprehension by the time they turned 8 or 9.
What’s more, the more iodine levels dropped during pregnancy, the lower the child’s performance in terms of IQ and reading ability, the study authors noted.
Study co-author and registered dietitian Sarah Bath agreed that “pregnant women and those planning a pregnancy should ensure adequate iodine intake.” She suggested in the news release that “good dietary sources are milk, dairy products and fish. . . . Kelp supplements should be avoided as they may have excessive levels of iodine.”
The U.S. National Institutes of Health states that 3 ounces of baked cod contains approximately 99 mcg of iodine, 1 cup of plain low-fat yogurt contains about 75 mcg, and 1 cup of reduced-fat milk has an estimated 56 mcg.