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Oct 11

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  • 7 Sneaky Signs You Could Have Cognitive Decline, According to Experts Saturday May 22nd, 2021

    It happens from time to time: You start telling a story, only to lose your train of thought halfway through. Or you walk into a room and can’t remember what you went in there to do. Or the harder you try to remember the name of that kitchen utensil you need to buy, the further its name slips away.

    Mental glitches like these happen to everyone and are understandably freaky, but aren’t necessarily a sign of cognitive decline. “The feeling of your brain short-circuiting is often more likely due to psychological processes,” says Sarah Garcia-Beaumier, Ph.D., a licensed neuropsychologist and associate professor at Stetson University in Florida.

    Increases in stress, distractions, multitasking, anxiety or depression (all of which have skyrocketed in the last year) can be big contributors. “A common consideration we have to make clinically is whether cognitive symptoms are due to early dementia, or rather due to a depressive or anxiety disorder,” Garcia-Beaumier says. “This trend has only increased during the pandemic.”

    The Difference Between Cognitive Lapses and Cognitive Decline

    Cognitive decline is typically a neurodegenerative process where you exhibit a worsening of performance in one or more areas, such as memory, attention or language.

    We typically begin showing cognitive aging in our 30s, and some people exhibit more cognitive decline than others their age. Signs often include what we normally experience day to day—forgetting to call someone or losing the word you wanted to say. When those symptoms appear much more than they did previously, so much so that others are starting to notice, “that’s typically an early red flag for cognitive decline beyond what we expect for the normal aging process,” says Garcia-Beaumier.

    Normal aging will slow down retrieval of memory, for example, and most individuals will have some difficulty remembering names of people, items or places—but these bits of memory come back in 10 to 15 minutes, or sometimes hours later.

    “These minor glitches in memory aren’t a sign of evolving dementia or cognitive impairment,” says Thomas Hammond, M.D., a neurologist with Baptist Health’s Marcus Neuroscience Institute in Boca Raton, Florida. “Forgetting conversations or important appointments, or feeling lost in familiar places, are more worrisome and concerning for significant early cognitive impairment.”

    This doesn’t automatically mean you’ll end up with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, though. “In fact, some people who meet the criteria for what we call mild cognitive impairment actually resolve or stabilize, without further decline,” says Garcia-Beaumier.

    But if your lapses are related to psychological distress—or another underlying health issue—and you allow the stress to go on, she adds, that can put you at a higher risk of dementia. Here are sneaky signs of cognitive decline to watch out for so you can start turning things around posthaste.

    Signs You Could Have Cognitive Decline

    1. You struggle to stay on top of things.

    The corticolimbic system of the brain modulates the experience of anxiety. “It also happens to be the same area of the brain that helps with processing speed, attention, planning, judgement, organization and lots of thinking skills,” says Garcia-Beaumier. “So if there’s a change in this area of the brain due to stress or anxiety, these cognitive skills are also affected.”

    This overlap in brain pathways, taken with the larger amount of resources going toward modulating your stress and anxiety (because your body is essentially bouncing back and forth between survival and recuperation mode) will lead to a varying array of cognitive deficits.

    These pathways are also crucial in processing information—if you can no longer pay attention to things, your brain isn’t going to be able to encode them and retain them for later memory.

    2. You can’t find the words you’re looking for.

    Cognitive decline manifests itself in almost all aspects of complex daily tasks, especially our language. “Even a simple undertaking, like naming a kitchen appliance, engages our brain networks extensively, making it a sensitive indicator of early decline,” says Aubry Alvarez-Bakker, Ph.D., a neuroscientist and research lead at Yes Supply Co., a wellness coaching company.

    A strong sign can be found in moments when you might forget a simple, specific word you’re looking for, so you try to describe it instead. Over time, you might also start having difficulty keeping up with conversations, which can lead to anxiety in social situations.

    The specific mechanism behind why this happens isn’t fully known, but research shows that language decline often originates in the left side of the brain. “We also know that low BDNF production (a protein produced by our nervous system that’s crucial for the production of new brain cells) means fewer new cells to help us carry on activity across our brain,” says Alvarez-Bakker.

    As we age, production of this protein naturally declines, so our body relies heavily on our environment to create BDNF to “fertilize” our brain and allow new cells to form. “Among the best foods to consume to boost BDNF in our body—and subsequently ward off cognitive decline—are blueberries, turmeric, green tea and dark chocolate,” says Alvarez-Bakker.

    3. You feel blasé about things you used to enjoy.

    Because apathy is a common symptom of severe burnout, it’s easy to pay no mind that it can also be a symptom of cognitive decline. “It’s actually the most common symptom and perhaps the most overlooked,” says Alvarez-Bakker.

    A sudden loss of interest in activities you used to love, or a willingness to throw in the towel easily, is reported in up to half of all cases of dementia. You might lose interest in reading books, gardening or many other activities you used to enjoy. You might also find things that used to be easy for you to accomplish are now overwhelming, or that you avoid complex tasks or projects entirely.

    “This is unfortunate because withdrawing from stimulation is known to speed up the decline process,” says Alvarez-Bakker. “Luckily, our lifestyle can help counteract this symptom to an extent.” When apathy creeps in, the best step to take is to get personal by integrating things you deeply enjoy—music, art, sports, reminiscing—into daily activities that will boost your participation in life, and in turn, stimulation.

    4. You’ve been acting out of character.

    Subtle personality changes are an often-missed sign of cognitive decline, primarily because of how easily they can be blamed on chronic stress (say, becoming easily angered or swearing when the f-bomb isn’t a regular part of your vocabulary).

    You might also find yourself withdrawing from social interactions and activities—and when you are around others, you may not participate in discussions, but instead stay quiet. “These are symptoms which are often written off as an individual being shy,” says Hammond. “However, the person who was once talkative and garrulous will often become quiet and a wallflower as an early sign of developing cognitive decline.”

    Regardless if stress is the cause or a variable that’s augmenting the cognitive decline, “any treatment hoping to prevent or reduce cognitive decline needs to incorporate stress management,” says Isaac Tourgeman, Ph.D., an assistant professor of neuropsychology at Albizu University in Miami, Florida.

    5. You’re always ruminating and worrying.

    Incessantly ruminating and worrying keeps your fight-or-flight response in overdrive, and symptoms of chronic stress can mimic cognitive decline, such as forgetfulness and inattention.

    “Uncontrolled, toxic thinking has the potential to create a state of low-grade inflammation across the brain and body over time, which can impact our cognitive health and ability to remember or recall information,” says Caroline Leaf, Ph.D., a neuroscientist and author of Cleaning Up Your Mental Mess. “If left unmanaged, this kind of chronic cognitive upset can progress into varying levels of cognitive decline.”

    Resolution of the underlying causes of your rumination and worry is paramount to improving current, and preventing future, symptoms of cognitive decline.

    6. You’ve recently been sick or have a chronic condition.

    “Cognitive dulling is a common feature associated with general medical illnesses, such as the flu, urinary tract infection and gastroenteritis,” says Hammond. “Metabolic stress caused by minor infection will often lead to metabolic encephalopathy, which is simply a transient cognitive decline.”

    Other conditions can also lead to cognitive decline, including sleep disorders (such as sleep apnea), diabetes or cardiovascular issues. “Similar to psychological distress, sometimes symptoms can be resolved if it’s due to one of these conditions,” says Garcia-Beaumier. “But if left untreated, it does increase a person’s risk of dementia down the line.”

    Depression also becomes an important rule-out and can result in what’s called pseudodementia, where the depression essentially masquerades as cognitive impairment. “Symptoms present as forgetfulness, difficulty with attention and lowered energy and motivation,” says Tourgeman. This is when it’s especially important to consult with your doctor to ensure the right diagnosis is made and proper treatment given.

    7. Other people are noticing your mental glitches.

    “We all experience cognitive glitches to a certain extent when going through the pressures of life, but a good rule of thumb is if anyone who knows you has noticed a consistent increase of these symptoms over time, it may be a sign that you’re experiencing cognitive decline,” says Leaf. Usually the person experiencing symptoms is the last to be aware of the decline, so it’s important to be open to feedback and proactive about taking action.

    The Best Ways to Prevent or Slow Cognitive Decline

    “While we currently aren’t able to change our genes, we can influence how our environment impacts them,” says Tourgeman. “A healthy lifestyle—eating a health-conscious diet (especially one made for boosting brain health, like the MIND Diet), exercising regularly, reducing stress and distractions, maintaining a sense of utility and connectedness—can all go a long way.”

    And no healthy lifestyle with the goal of avoiding or improving cognitive decline would be complete without a wide range of activities that keep your brain engaged.

    “Playing brain games on your phone will only go so far, though, mostly because you’ll only get really good at that one thing,” says Garcia-Beaumier. “Doing lots of activities that you enjoy and that challenge you is best.” Things like reading, playing games, learning new skills and dancing can all contribute to optimal cognitive health when done in conjunction with other healthy habits.

    How to Know When It’s Time to See a Doctor

    “Any time someone’s noticing cognitive changes (memory isn’t as good, brain seems slower or foggy) they should check in with their doctor,” says Garcia-Beaumier. “But it’s especially important if family or friends are also noticing issues or if the issues make it hard to fulfill daily responsibilities.”

    You can try to work on decreasing stress and improving how you take care of any other health conditions to see if that also clears up any cognitive issues, but there isn’t a definitive way to know whether your symptoms are due to stress, psychological issues, another health condition or legit cognitive decline without talking to your doctor and possibly seeing specialists for further testing.

    “Even getting some basic tests, early before any issues arise, can allow your doctor to compare your current cognitive performance to possible cognitive issues in the future,” says Garcia-Beaumier.

    Source: Eating Well

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  • High blood pressure? Try watermelon juice Sunday April 25th, 2021

    Fancy a nice slice of watermelon? It’s so much more than a refreshing snack on a warm day. Research is increasingly showing that it has surprising health benefits too — ranging from beating post-workout muscle soreness to potentially lowering blood pressure.

    A team at Reading University is the latest to investigate its benefits, with a study into the impact of watermelon juice on blood pressure. Dr Charlotte Mills, a lecturer in nutritional sciences, has recruited ten young, healthy adults for a trial that involves the volunteers having blood-pressure measurements taken before drinking half a litre of a commercial watermelon juice or a placebo drink of water, and again after drinking.

    She says she is looking to find out if the compound L-citrulline, found naturally in watermelon, helps to widen blood vessels and lower blood pressure. “Watermelons are such lovely fruit, but there has also been a lot of recent scientific interest in their potential health benefits,” Mills says. “We know L-citrulline has the potential to lead to dilation of blood vessels and we want to find out if there is enough of it in watermelon juice to make a difference.”

    Previous studies suggest that this may be so. At Florida State University, a team gave overweight middle-aged men and women a placebo or an extract of watermelon for six weeks before asking them to switch. During that time the participants had their blood pressure checked in normal conditions and with one hand dipped repeatedly in cold water — cool temperatures are a source of stress that cause blood pressure to increase and the heart to work harder. The results of that study showed that the watermelon extract had a positive impact on blood pressure and the heart.

    It’s not just blood pressure that can benefit from watermelon. In 2019 a pair of papers hailed it as being among the healthiest fruit. Researchers from the University of South Africa highlighted that “it contains vitamins B, C, E and phytochemicals such as polyphenols and betacarotene and so possesses anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties”.

    “Watermelons are also a source of lycopene, a carotenoid that gives them their pink colour, and that has been shown to help to keep the prostate gland healthy,” says the nutrition therapist Ian Marber.

    No wonder, then, that watermelon juice suddenly seems to be everywhere — brands including Mello and What a Melon, and Vitamin Planet’s watermelon juice are on sale in supermarkets, while roasted watermelon seeds — high in fibre, protein, iron, magnesium and potassium — are available in health food stores such as Holland and Barrett.

    At San Diego State University, exercise and nutrition scientists found that fresh watermelon can help to ward off hunger pangs and help with weight loss. They gave 33 overweight adults 300g of watermelon cubes or low-fat cookies as a daily snack for four weeks. Not only did the watermelon eaters have a lower BMI and waist-to-height ratio by the end of the trial, they also reported feeling less hungry for up to 90 minutes after eating the fruit, compared with the cookie-eaters, whose hunger levels returned after 20 minutes. Although the fruit contained almost double the amount of sugar (17g) as the cookies (9g) per serving, the scientists said that “watermelons possess nutritional components that suppress a rise in glucose and also contain a small amount of fibre, which can improve the body’s glucose tolerance”. All of this meant that the rise and fall of blood sugar that can increase appetite was less pronounced than expected.

    Because it is 92 per cent water — and therefore great for rehydrating — watermelon is also an ideal post-workout snack and may even enhance performance, according to studies. When exercisers were given natural watermelon juice, watermelon juice enriched with added L-citrulline or a placebo an hour before their workouts, researchers from the Technical University of Cartagena in Spain found both types of the fruit juice “helped to reduce the recovery heart rate and muscle soreness after 24 hours”, although it was the natural watermelon juice that seemed to be more easily absorbed by the body.

    Another trial at Exeter University showed that after two weeks of taking a watermelon juice concentrate, which provided 3.4g L-citrulline, or an apple juice placebo, cyclists experienced improved muscle oxygenation during moderate-intensity exercise, although in this case there was no improvement in performance. “Watermelon juice typically contains about 2.3g citrulline per litre so you’d need to drink about 2.5 litres of juice to get the dose of citrulline used in some studies,” says the sports nutritionist Anita Bean, author of The Complete Guide to Sports Nutrition. “Perhaps the next fashionable health tonic for gym-goers will be a concentrated watermelon shot.”

    Source: Sunday Times

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  • New study links red meat consumption with heart disease Thursday April 15th, 2021

    Time to ditch the burgers? Eating red and processed meat increases your risk of heart disease – including smaller ventricles, poorer cardiac function and stiffer arteries, study warns

    UK scientists have linked the consumption of any form of red meat – such as beef, lamb and pork – with a decline in heart function.

    The researchers, who studied nearly 20,000 individuals, found that greater intake of red and processed meat was linked with a decline in three different measures of heart health.

    Processed meats – such as sausages, salami and cured bacon – are meats that have been preserved by smoking or salting, curing or adding chemical preservatives.

    There is some evidence that red meat alters the gut microbiome, leading to higher levels of certain metabolites in the blood, which have in turn been linked to greater risk of heart disease.

    Red meat consumption has already been  – the world’s biggest killer.

    Burger lovers could consider switching to the many plant-based alternatives that now line supermarket shelves – which are also .

    HEART DISEASE: THE WORLD’S BIGGEST KILLER

    The world’s biggest killer is ischaemic heart disease, responsible for 16 per cent of the world’s total deaths.

    Since 2000, the largest increase in deaths has been for this disease, rising by more than 2 million to 8.9 million deaths in 2019.

    Stroke and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease are the 2nd and 3rd leading causes of death, responsible for approximately 11 per cent and 6 per cent of total deaths respectively.

    Source: WHO 

    Only last month did  from Canada link cardiovascular disease events, like heart attack and stroke, with processed meat consumption.

    A , meanwhile, found regular consumption of red meat can raise levels of a cardiovascular disease-causing chemical more than 10 times.

    The organic compound – TMAO (trimethylamine N-oxide) – is produced in the gut during digestion.

    ‘Previous studies have shown links between greater red meat consumption and increased risk of heart attacks or dying from heart disease,’ said study author Dr Zahra Raisi-Estabragh of Queen Mary University of London.

    ‘For the first time, we examined the relationships between meat consumption and imaging measures of heart health.

    ‘This may help us to understand the mechanisms underlying the previously observed connections with cardiovascular disease.’

    The study included 19,408 participants of the UK Biobank – a long-term study investigating the contribution of genes and the environment to the development of health problems.

    The researchers examined associations of self-reported intake of red and processed meat with heart anatomy and function.

    THE THREE HEART MEASURES

    1. Cardiovascular magnetic resonance (CMR) assessments of heart function used in clinical practice such as volume of the ventricles and measures of the pumping function of the ventricles

    2. Novel CMR radiomics used in research to extract detailed information from heart images such as shape and texture (which indicates health of the heart muscle)

    3. Elasticity of the blood vessels (stretchy arteries are healthier)

    Three types of heart measures were analysed – one of which was the elasticity of the blood vessels, which is a sign of good health.

    The analysis was adjusted for other factors that might influence the association, including age, sex, deprivation, education, smoking, alcohol, exercise, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and body mass index (BMI) as a measure of obesity.

    The researchers found that greater intake of red and processed meat was associated with declined measures of heart health across all measures studied.

    Specifically, individuals with higher meat intake had smaller ventricles, poorer heart function and stiffer arteries – all markers of worse cardiovascular health.

    As a comparison, the researchers also tested the relationships between heart imaging measures and intake of oily fish, which has previously been linked with better heart health.

    They found that as the amount of oily fish consumption rose, heart function improved and arteries were stretchier.

    ‘The findings support prior observations linking red and processed meat consumption with heart disease and provide unique insights into links with heart and vascular structure and function,’ said Dr Raisi-Estabragh.

    Interestingly, the links between the three heart health measures and meat intake were only partially explained by high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and obesity.

    ‘It has been suggested that these factors could be the reason for the observed relationship between meat and heart disease,’ said Dr Raisi-Estabragh.

    ‘For example, it is possible that greater red meat intake leads to raised blood cholesterol and this in turn causes heart disease.

    ‘Our study suggests that these four factors do play a role in the links between meat intake and heart health, but they are not the full story.’

    Dr Raisi-Estabragh noted that the study did not look into alternative mechanisms, and admitted that it did not establish casualty – that red meat causes a decline in heart function.

    ‘This was an observational study and causation cannot be assumed, but in general, it seems sensible to limit intake of red and processed meat for heart health reasons,’ Dr Raisi-Estabragh said.

    The research is being presented at ESC Preventive Cardiology 2021, an online scientific congress of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC), which runs from Thursday to Saturday this week.

    SHOULD YOU CUT BACK ON RED MEAT? WHAT THE EVIDENCE SAYS

    Meat is a good source of protein, vitamins and minerals in the diet.

    The Department of Health advises that we eat no more than 70g (cooked weight) of red and processed meat a day, which is the average daily consumption in the UK.

    This is mainly because there is a link between bowel cancer and red meat, such as beef and lamb, and processed meat, such as sausages and bacon.

    A 2011 report called Iron and Health from the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) assessed evidence on the link between bowel cancer and iron – meat is the main source of iron.

    SACN concluded that eating a lot of red and processed meat probably increases the risk of bowel cancer, and advised accordingly.

    The American Institute for Cancer Research advises we consume no more than three portions of red meat a week and urges us to ‘avoid’ processed meats.

    Processed meat often contains nitrogen-based preservatives that stop it going off while being transported or stored.

    These preservatives have been linked to both bowel and stomach cancer.

    When red meat is digested, the pigment haem gets broken down in our gut to form chemicals called N-nitroso compounds.

    These compounds have been found to damage the DNA of cells that line our digestive tract, which could trigger cancer.

    Our body may also react to this damage by making cells divide more rapidly to replace those that are lost.

    This ‘extra’ cell division may increase the risk of cancer.

    Cancer Research UK says three chemicals in meat are linked to bowel cancer because they damage cells in the gut.

    Red and processed meat has also been linked to type 2 diabetes.

    This may be due to the preservatives used or the meats’ higher levels of saturated fat than chicken and fish.

    However, researchers in Canada, Spain and Poland cast a shadow over eating advice adopted by health organisations around the world in November 2019.

    In a landmark paper, the academics analysed past studies of how eating meat affected the health of more than four million people.

    The research, published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine, found no evidence that eating beef, pork and lamb could increase the rates of heart disease, cancer, stroke or type 2 diabetes – despite fears.

    Source: Daily Mail

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