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60 Minutes ran a segment about the health benefits of red wine, specifically the apparent powers of resveratrol, a polyphenol that is found in the skin of grapes and is thought to prevent illness and promote longevity (the Brain Fitness Blog reported on this a few months ago). Resveratrol is said to have a role in preventing clots and is believed to inhibit the production of LDL cholesterol. The 60 Minutes episode highlighted the work of Dr. Christoph Westphal and Harvard biochemist David Sinclair, whose research suggests that resveratrol can delay the aging process and prevent many gerontological diseases. A few years ago, scientists reported that resveratrol may discourage the onset of one such illness, Alzheimer’s. It is also claimed that this antioxidant can boost stamina, reduce lung inflammation stemming from chronic pulmonary disease, and help stave off cancer. Scientists in Cambridge, Massachusetts, also say that they’ve isolated the chemical and given it to mice. The mice given high doses of Resveratrol were able to run farther, didn’t gain as much weight, and lived 20% longer.
A recent study found that meditation may slow the progression of AIDS in just a few weeks. Researchers believe that meditation may help boost the immune system in combating the progression of the disease. This finding needs replication in a larger sample of patients, but it could offer a cost effective and relatively pleasant method to help people battle the terrible and progressive fatal condition. The stress lowering program known as “mindfulness meditation” was used. This type of meditation employs an open and receptive awareness of the present moment, avoiding thinking of the past or worrying about the future.
Researchers found the more often the patients meditated the higher their CD4-T Cell counts, a standard measure of how well the immune system is fighting the AIDS virus. The CD4 counts were measured before and after the two-month program. Researchers point out that this is the first study to indicate mindfulness meditation stress management training can have a direct impact on slowing HIV disease progression.
A larger issue here is that we are beginning to explore how the brain itself can begin to change the physiology of the body. Indeed I have speculated for some time that the brain has the ability to fix the body, we simply need to learn how. Perhaps we are on the right path!
Researchers at John’s Hopkins reviewed data from 13,499 cases to measure the protective effect from these commonly used drugs on AD risk. Over the course of the studies 820 people developed AD. However, those who used the non-steroidal drugs including aspirin, Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin and other brands) and Naproxen together had a 23% lower risk for AD than those who did not use such medications.
Researchers stated that while the different types of medications have different properties, they seemed to deliver the same level of protection. This study and others in the past underscore the probable contribution of an inflammatory process related to AD.
This study and the others do not suggest everyone should start taking these medications, but it might be a good topic to discuss with your doctor.
A recent article in the USA Today discussed “the placebo effect” and the debate surrounding it. According to the American Medical Association “a placebo is a substance provided to a patient that the physician believes has no specific pharmacological effect upon the condition being treated.” Perhaps more important to the understanding of the placebo effect is the belief of the patient.
According to a national (USA) survey in 2008 as many as 50% of physicians prescribe placebos at least once a month. The interaction of mind and body that underlies the placebo effect has been known for many years. Tension exists regarding the placebo as some believe it is unethical for doctors to deceive patients by not telling them about the placebo intervention. However, 1 in 20 doctors who prescribed placebos explicitly described them as such to patients. The question is do placebos actually make patients feel better and does this outweigh the responsibility to inform patients about their use.
Across studies with different medical conditions results suggest there is an active treatment effect of placebo and in some cases this may be significant. Factors such as warmth, empathy, duration of doctor-patient interaction and communication of positive expectation might play an important role in healthy outcomes. If these factors are indeed important and contributory to a positive outcome for a patient, the need to deceive is removed.
Perhaps placebo reflects the long held belief that our brains can have an impact on the condition of our body. Perhaps a message delivered by a person that the patient perceives as knowing and within a context the brain perceives as credible can lead to our own body helping to solve the medical issue. Further, given the rather consistent positive impact of “placebos” on patient outcomes it seems time to begin rethinking the therapeutic effect of mind over matter and to integrate such care into the standard regimen of our “health care system.”
The world economic situation is fertile ground for anxiety, some realistic and other perpetuated from misinformation and personal agendas. According to the National Sleep Foundation, One-third of Americans are losing sleep over the state of the U.S. economy and other personal financial concerns. The poll suggests that inadequate sleep is associated with unhealthy lifestyles and negatively impacts health and safety.
The Brain Fitness Blog has reported on this in the past and we believe it is important to take some time to consider the following as methods for coping with these uncertain times:
- 1. Information and knowledge will help to reduce anxiety, even when the information is not positive. Most of us experience anxiety or unease when we are confronted with uncertainty. As such, it is a good idea to spend some time researching the economic issues (stock market, credit, employment, etc) from a variety of viewpoints. You may have noticed that reading and predicting the economy is not a science, but for those in the stock market, there are predictable patterns based on many years of past behavior. This should provide some certainty even though the present represents a turbulent time.
- 2. Meet with your financial planner to review all investments and liabilities. He or she will help you reduce your risk and loss while planning appropriately for the near and long term future.
- 3. Have a family meeting to discuss the issues and to provide a forum to express fears and hopes. Make a family plan that adapts spending and saving to the current market demands.
- 4. Place a focus on your emotional condition and make an extra effort to exercise and eat healthy. This will enable your body to handle the stress better.
- 5. This is a great time to use relaxation procedures such as breathing and progressive muscle relaxation. Meditation is also a good daily activity.
- 6. Have faith in our human innovative and adaptive nature and believe that we will survive this period of uncertainty.
- 7. Reach out to others who may be in a particularly difficult situation and offer them your time and friendship.
It has been know for some time that aerobic exercise and physical activity helps to increase cognitive function and perhaps delay onset of Alzheimer’s disease. A recent study provides some explanation for how this might occur.
It is known that deterioration of the hippocampus occurs as part of the aging process. The hippocampus (i) is the structure deep in the middle of the temporal lobe that helps to form new memories and spatial memory. Changes in the structure and function occur in the hippocampus with advanced age, chronic stress, and Alzheimer’s disease. In contrast, studies indicate an enriched environment that includes physical activity can lead to neurogenesis in the hippocampus.
A recent study by Erickson and colleagues (2009) investigated high versus low levels of aerobic exercise in non-demented older adults on volume of the hippocampus and on spatial memory. Results indicate that higher fitness levels were associated with larger left and right hippocampi and larger hippocampi and higher fitness levels were related to better spatial memory performance.
The authors assert that higher levels of aerobic exercise are related to increased hippocampal volume in older humans, which translates to better memory performance.