Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Six unexpected ways to protect yourself against dementia

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Meanwhile, new guidelines for the shingles vaccine kick in this month making it available to the over-65s. Currently, adults aged between 70 and 79 are eligible for the vaccine. But if you turn 65 after September 1, you will now be eligible for a shingles jab, too.

Why might vaccines have a protective effect? Dr Bukhbinder pointed out that “the infections they protect against cause systemic inflammation – that is, inflammation that’s elsewhere in your body and not directly in your brain”. 

He continued: “We have evidence that, especially in older adults, systemic inflammation affects inflammation in the brain. And we know that this neuroinflammation is part of the development of Alzheimer’s. 

“So if we can prevent these infections we can reduce neuroinflammation and, maybe, the development and progression of Alzheimer’s disease.”  

Another idea is that these vaccines might rejuvenate or “wake up” your immune system. 

Dr Bukhbinder said: “As we age, our immune system slows down, it’s a little worse at fighting viruses and other pathogens. These vaccines are helping the immune system better clear the toxic protein build-ups in the brain that contribute to Alzheimer’s.”

Use essential oils on your pillow

Love the scent of lavender in your bedroom to help you drop off? Then we have good news: it could actually boost your memory and cognition, according to a new study from the University of California

When 43 adults with no cognition problems were exposed to the smell of an essential oil for two hours every night for six months, they saw a 226 per cent improvement in memory compared with a group who received a small amount of diffused scent. 

Brain scans also revealed that the essential oil group had better functioning in a part of the brain associated with memory and cognition which usually declines with age.

“Information about odours has direct input to areas involved in cognition, memory and emotion,” explained Dr Donald Wilson – a director and senior research scientist at the Nathan Kline Institute for Psychiatric Research in New York – who was not involved with the research.

In fact, he said that our sense of smell is far more tapped into our cognition than any of our other senses. 

“Research shows that just breathing, even if there’s no odour, can entrain the activity of cognition, memory and emotion which helps them communicate with each other,” he said. 

“This is important for storing and retrieving memories and keeping memory-related regions active. Smelling odours during sleep may help give the system a boost by enhancing this communication, but precisely how this works isn’t fully clear yet.”

Enjoy the last of the summer strawberries

Not only do they taste delicious, but research has found that strawberries are rich in a compound that may help ward off Alzheimer’s.

A 2022 study from Rush University, Chicago, found that the compound pelargonidin is linked with fewer neurofibrillary tau tangles in the brain – tau tangles are abnormal build-ups of a protein called tau in your brain and they’re one of the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease. 

The researchers said that the protection may come from the anti-inflammatory effect of pelargonidin – out of all berries, strawberries are the best source of this compound.

Prof Puja Agarwal said that the study, which she authored, offers “hope on how specific dietary components such as berries may help brain health”. Sounds like a good reason to add strawberries to your fruit salad. 

Outside of the summer, red radishes are also a good source of pelargonidin.

Open the window when you’re cooking with gas

In a small study from the Indoor Air Journal, researchers found that exposure to ultrafine particles – which are found in cooking fumes from gas and can penetrate the body – during cooking causes changes to brain activity which is similar to what happens in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.

Thirteen men and women were present while chicken was fried on a gas stove – and so they were exposed to ultrafine particles. Brain activity was recorded using an electroencephalograph (EEG) before cooking, at the end of cooking and 30 minutes after cooking. 

The researchers found that brain waves decreased during exposure to the ultrafine particles, similar to people with neurodegenerative diseases – but levels went back to normal after 30 minutes. Yet researchers say that people chronically exposed to cooking aerosol might progress towards Alzheimer’s.

To counter the effect, researchers suggest using respirators or ventilation during cooking to reduce any potential risk.

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