A study published in online Neurology 3-27-08 indicates belly fat is linked to increased risk of dementia. Rachel Whitmer, a researcher at Kaiser Permanente Division of Research noted that belly fat increases the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. However, her research on 6,583 men and women ages 40-45 living in northern
California found that belly fat was also related to increased risk of dementia.
Indeed those who were obese (30 pounds or more over a healthy weight) and had collected belly fat in their 40s were 3.6 times more likely to develop dementia during the 30 to 40 year study. Even those who were not obese, yet had extra weight around the waist or belly, were 1.8 times more likely to develop dementia compared to those who were lean all over.Whitmer stated that “it is not simply about weight, but where you carry your weight.” She noted that people who are predisposed to carry their fat in their belly region may be at risk. Fat cells in the stomach secrete hormones that may play a role in diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and now perhaps dementia.
The good news is that anyone with belly fat in their 40s can adopt a lifestyle of diet and exercise that can reduce such fat and reduce the risk of disease related to the fat. Time to get moving and eating healthier!
A recent report from the National Alzheimer’s Disease Association estimates nearly 10 million to 14 million of the baby boom generation (76 million strong) will be at risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease (AD). These numbers may actually underestimate the overall prevalence of boomers who will develop AD in their lifetime. This estimate places a heavy emotional, family and economic burden on the U.S. States given our current approach and over all understanding of the caregiver demands posed by AD. There is no reason to believe that similar nations across the world will be any different.
One method to begin addressing the rising epidemic of dementia is to establish a national or world priority on the human brain and dementia. Citizens of the great planet Earth need to have a basic understanding of their brain, something that is completely missing even in 2008. We cannot expect citizens to care for their brain if they do not understand it or the importance of a proactive healthy lifestyle across their lifespan. One idea is to include basics of brain and brain health in every elementary curriculum in the world.
National policy also has to prioritize research on treatment and prevention of dementia in ways we have not yet. Research is needed on how the brain functions, how diseases begin, new treatments for dementia, and innovation in the area of prevention. Health insurance companies should begin to incentivize lifestyles that promote brain health including lifelong learning, diets, meditation, and physical exercise. Those who continue to work or remain involved in society may be rewarded with some type of tax break. We need to think in terms of a Brain Enlightened Society.
It seems everyone knows what “stress” is and what it feels like. Most of us agree that stress typically does not feel very good and places the mind and body in a precarious position. We know many things can cause stress and some of the reaction of being stressed is subjective, based on a personal perception. These examples might include being in traffic, waiting for an elevator, waiting for the doctor, or having to deal with perceived incompetence. However, more life threatening stressors such as near death from a motor vehicle accident, child abuse, sexual trauma, war, etc. can impose a more chronic form of stress.
The brain reacts to stress by having a survival type instinct in which you will either run or fight the stressor. Some research indicates this is primarily a male response and that women may be better at actually working with the stressing agent to ameliorate the stress. Perhaps the latter is a more adaptive response to stress and might relate to the fact that women live longer than men.
If the stressor does not go away the effects of the stress can become chronic and result in a clinical condition known as Post-Traumatic Stress disorder (PTSD) or chronic anxiety. Both of these conditions seem to have a hormonal component underlying them in which an explosion of hormones are released in the body—“stress response” and if not turned off can potentially do damage to the body and brain. Some of the hormones such as cortisol and glucocorticoids can actually cause potential damage to the brain.
Animal and some human studies indicate that chronic stress with the persistent hormonal issue described above affects the hippocampus, structurally and functionally. The hippocampus is critical to memory and new learning and it is not coincidental that persons with chronic anxiety or PTSD have memory problems.
Most people understand that it is important to first identify what causes their stress and then to try and develop more adaptive coping strategies to manage the stress in their lives. However, most people probably do not understand that such stress, if not managed can become chronic and may be a negative influence on brain function.
It is a good idea to take some time and list two or three things that represent your chief stressors in life. Once you do this identify how you are presently coping or managing these stressors and try to determine how you might better reduce the negative effects of these stressors on your body and life.
Dr. Nussbaum has used this blog to articulate his five part brain health lifestyle for all to consider. These five components include Mental Stimulation (e.g. brain games), Physical Activity, Socialization, Spirituality, and Nutrition. Research has provided specific activities and behaviors that fall into one or more of the five components of the lifestyle. The critical thing for readers is to review their own lifestyle currently and try to incorporate the research based activities into a proactive approach to brain health.
Spirituality is a broad term that I use to refer to turning inward, slowing down, and introspecting. This process of slowing down may be important to brain health as research indicates animal brains stop developing when exposed to environments that are too stimulating. Baby boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964, are notorious for a fast-paced life with multitasking and stress production. While this type of lifestyle may be necessary at times, it also has its consequences, particularly on health.
Dr. Nussbaum supports 30 minutes a day to slow down, turn inward, and to simply turn off the environmental input. This might actually include turning your phone, ipod, and other communication device off! Research indicates slowing down can reduce stress which may then have positive effects on both the heart and the brain.
Daily prayer enhances the immune system, attending a formal place of worship relates to a longer and happier life, and U.S. physicians indicate prayer is important to the overall wellbeing to their patients. Meditation and relaxation procedures have also been shown to relate to positive health outcomes. These and other ways of simply slowing down are both advised and necessary.
One of the five major factors in Dr. Nussbaum’s Brain Health Lifestyle is physical activity. Research has demonstrated a relationship between walking daily and aerobic exercise three times a week and reduction in the risk of dementia. This stems in large part to the fact that every heart beat distributes 25% of the blood output and nutrition directly to the brain!
A recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA, 2007, 298) found the use of a pedometer is associated with significant increases in physical activity and significant decreases in body mass index and blood pressure. We know that blood pressure; particularly hypertension and obesity are two risk factors for dementia.
Perhaps you can begin your New Year with a couple simple resolutions:
Increase your daily physical activity through daily walks and, or aerobic exercise three times weekly.
Purchase a pedometer for yourself and for two loved ones in your life circle. This little, inexpensive tool will remind you to walk and give you immediate feedback on your daily steps. 10,000 steps daily is a good number to live by.
You are on your way to better brain health through increased physical activity.
We are starting off the Fit Brains Brain Health blog with some good news. Some food items that we actually do like might be good for us and not the reverse. In a recent study published in The Journal of Neuroscience, researchers believe it may be possible to boost memory. The article states:
“It may be possible to boost memory with a plant compound called epicatechin, which is found in foods and drinks including blueberries, grapes, tea, and cocoa”.