Read our summary of 2019 in the last Lifebrain newsletter of the year.
In this second part of our series on physical activity we look into how physical activity may affect brain health. One of the hypothesized causal factors is circulating proteins called “myokines” that are released from working muscles or other tissues during exercise. Read more in the November edition of our newsletter.
Physical activity has been shown to reduce age-related cognitive decline, probably by improving brain health. In two recent studies, Lifebrain researchers at the University of Cambridge found that both subjective and objective measures of physical activity were associated with less age-related changes in the brain. Meaning that keeping our bodies fit contributes to keeping our brain healthy into old age. Read more in the October newsletter, part one out of two in our series on physical activity.
In the last newsletter we learned about the nature of sleep and how it can be measured and classified. In this edition we look into the functions of sleep. Researchers think that sleep trigger processes in the brain that strengthen memories. One idea is that this takes place through the spontaneous reactivation of memories during sleep. In other words, you now have the perfect excuse to take a nap after learning something new- as your brain might keep repeating what you just learned.
Sleep is vital. We know that our brains remain highly active when we sleep. Lack of sleep have many negative effects, both on our health and mental functions. Sleep is necessary for having a fully functioning brain when we are awake; perhaps because sleep helps to restore the energy consumed by the body and brain throughout the day. Sleep may also enable removal of harmful material that accumulate in the brain when we are awake. Sleep seems to play a crucial role in learning and memory, especially by aiding long-term storage of memories.
The Global Brain Health Survey was launched in June 2019. It is the first global, anonymous online survey to learn about people`s views on the brain and brain health. The survey results will be used to develop policy recommendations to help people take care of their brain in a way that fits their daily life. The more answers we get, the better!
What characterises people who maintain their memory into older age? The so-called memory maintainers showed that they were more often women, carried beneficial genetic variants, were more physically active at study baseline, and also tended to live together with someone to a larger extent than people in the average memory development group.
Premature infants often do not get enough building blocks, namely, food with essential nutrients and energy. By enhanced supply of energy, protein, fat, essential fatty acids and Vitamin A, it is possible to improve growth and cognitive function in very low birth weight infants. This enhanced nutrition can reduce the serious long term brain-related damages experienced with prematurity.
The biological clock in people with depression ticks faster and the body ages faster than healthy controls - according to a current study by the University Medical Center in Amsterdam. The good news is that improving diet and increasing physical activity may reduce depressive symptoms. Read more about the impact of depression on biological ageing in the Lifebrain e-newsletter March 2019.
Most of the essential nutrients seem to be important for the brain as well as the rest of the body. Still, iodine is one of the dietary components with very marked effects on brain development. Iodine deficiency is a major cause of preventable intellectual disability among infants, and population studies suggest that approximately 1.6 billion people are at risk of iodine deficiency.
Memory training can slow down brain deterioration at older adults. However, the positive effects wore off when the research participants did not train. This could mean that continous tranining is required for lasting effects on the brains`s white matter microstructure - found in a current study of the Center for Changes in Brain and Cognition, University of Oslo in Norway.
Certain nutrients such as essential fatty acids, choline/betaine/B-vitamins, iodine, iron, retinol, vitamin D and total energy supply are particularly important for brain function during fetal and childhood development. However, also in adult life nutrient intake is important for brain function. Some studies suggest that B-vitamins as well as essential fatty acids may have roles in preventing mild cognitive impairment.
Dried blood spots (DBS) involve the simple collection of small amounts of blood on special paper, eliminating time-consuming blood tests and making it easier to store and transport. They are making testing for biomarkers for brain conditions much easier.
Frequently engaging in social and intellectually stimulating activities is linked to better brain health in old age.
Despite age-related brain shrinkage, some people are able to maintain their thinking abilities into older age and have a low risk of developing dementia.
Living close to a forest might have beneficial effects on coping with stress according to a study conducted at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Berlin. The study focused on the relationship between the close natural surroundings to peoples’ homes and their brain health. A new Lifebrain study has been initiated to accumulate more evidence, at a multinational, European level.
Few of us would claim to be at our sharpest after a night of poor sleep – but how is insomnia associated with cognitive health?
As we get older, many things change, including our brain structure and our cognitive abilities. Scientists often focus on changes of individual cognitive functions (like memory), or brain structure (like grey matter = nerve cells which do the brain’s “work”). However, it is equally important to study how these functions and structures are related to each other, and whether this relationship changes across the lifespan. For instance, it might be that memory performance is very similar to reasoning performance in young individuals, but not in older adults. In other words, it could be that children with good memories also have good reasoning abilities, whereas this is not the case in older individuals.
In a new study using Lifebrain data, the researchers of the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit at the University of Cambridge investigated whether and when brain connections change with age and how these changes map onto our cognitive functions across the adult lifespan.
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The way our brain is organised and functions impacts how we perceive and act on the world around us. Individuals with high levels of the personality trait “Neuroticism”, and/or who have a stress system that is more easily triggered, have a higher risk of developing affective disorders like anxiety and depression. Basic research allows clarification of how personality traits and stress reactivity relate to brain organization and functioning. Whereas results from this type of research do not have immediate practical implications, they may improve our ability to identify and understand brain mechanisms underlying mental health risk factors.
At the Centre for Lifespan Changes in Brain and Cognition, University of Oslo, we have studied how memory-strategy training affects memory performance and brain white matter microstructure in young and older adults. White matter microstructure plays an important role in coordinating the communication between widespread regions of the brain.
Our results show that memory-strategy training can markedly improve memory performance. The training also influenced white matter microstructure in the older adults, confirming that neuroplasticity is preserved into older age.
Higher education level is associated with better cognition, and with a more protected brain. However, many other factors contribute to brain preservation during aging, such as having a lifestyle engaged in cognitive, leisure, physical or social activities or keeping a healthy diet. In a recent study by the University of Barcelona, highly educated seniors (aged over 60) showed better cognitive performance and increased thickness of grey matter in anterior parts of the brain as compared to less educated seniors.
In countries that promote women's equality and participation in society, women have a better chance of keeping their brains healthy in later life, according to a new research from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, a partner organisation in the Lifebrain project.
The causes of dementia are many and complex, but several studies suggest that lifestyle factors playing a role in the development of cancer, heart disease, diabetes and osteoporosis, also affect brain health. Lifebrain researchers in their earlier studies have observed that dietary fatty acids, cholesterol, vitamin D, body weight, and physical activity may be important for cortical preservation during normal aging. This means that the neurons (“thinking cells”) are better conserved in certain areas of the brain depending on diet, body weight and physical activity.
It is increasingly clear that premature infants with very low birth weight are at risk of developing medical and social problems later in life due to affected brain development. One of the challenges has been that the small and weak newborn premature infants (birth weight less than 1500 g) get markedly less nutrients than they need to grow normally due to a conservative practice among neonatologists. Thus, the premature infants often experience reduced function as seen with increased risk of having cerebral palsy, loss of vision or hearing, epilepsy, mental retardation, autism, learning disorders, and reduced working capacity in adult life.
Alcohol use is widespread in the developed world and while previous studies have warned of the negative effects of drinking heavily, moderate alcohol consumption has largely been considered harmless. In fact, some studies have suggested that light-to-moderate drinking may be protective against dementia. However, recent research from Oxford challenges the idea that drinking in moderation may have beneficial effects.