Tag Archives: brain health

Cleveland Clinic Website Offers Free Brain Health Checkup

While browsing the web recently, I stumbled onto a fantastic resource that I wanted to share with you all. About a year ago, the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health launched a new site called HealthyBrains. The website is centered around the six pillars of brain health: physical exercise, food/nutrition, medical health, sleep/relaxation, mental fitness, and social interaction. The goal of the site is to allow everyday people to take their brain health into their own hands. There are so many simple ways to incorporate small lifestyle changes that can dramatically reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s and other neurocognitive disorders.

One of my favorite parts about the site is the Brain Health Checkup, a free quiz that takes around 20 minutes to complete. It asks you a variety of questions about your lifestyle and medical history to calculate a Brain Health Index (BHI), a score between 0 and 100. The higher the score, the better your odds of minimizing your dementia risk based on the latest scientific research. After receiving your score, you can read personalized tips on how to improve your BHI. Your information is saved so that you can retake the checkup later and see how your brain health has improved. You can also take a memory test and see how your brain stacks up against others.

This is such an easy way to learn how to improve your brain health. I highly recommend that you check it out, no matter your age. Click here to visit the site!

 

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How Oral Hygiene Protects Your Brain From Dementia

Let’s be honest, most of us probably aren’t flossing nearly as often as our dentist tells us to. As long as our teeth look fairly white and our breath smells fine, we assume that our oral care routine is good enough. However, this becomes particularly problematic as we get older. Elderly people often neglect their oral hygiene, leading to a variety of oral infections including gum disease. Not only can gum disease make it painful to chew food and increase the risk of tooth loss, but research suggests it may also contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s disease.

Microbes and Dementia

The idea that microbial infections may act as a trigger or cofactor for Alzheimer’s disease, known formally as the pathogen hypothesis, has been around since the 1980s, though only recently has it moved from the fringes to the forefront of mainstream neuroscience. The hypothesis suggests that microbes can enter the central nervous system by passing through a selective membrane called the blood-brain barrier, which tends to become more leaky as we age, particularly in the hippocampus (the brain area most associated with memory).

Once inside, the microbe triggers an immune response that results in the deposition of amyloid beta plaques, the toxic protein clumps that are the hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease. As more microbes slip past the barrier, the brain is unable to clear away the plaques faster than they’re being created, causing them to accumulate and eventually leading to neurodegeneration.

Support for the pathogen hypothesis comes from studies that show positive associations between infections and the development of Alzheimer’s disease. In particular, meta-analyses have shown that the herpes virus, as well as the bacteria that cause pneumonia, syphilis, and Lyme disease, are found at significantly increased rates in Alzheimer’s patients compared to healthy controls of the same age and genetic risk profile. Other studies show that infecting lab-cultured neurons with these viruses and bacteria causes an Alzheimer’s-like pathology to develop.

Researchers now believe certain bacteria that can cause oral infections may be the next microbes to join the list of Alzheimer’s disease risk factors.

Your Oral Microbiome and You

The microbes living in our mouths and throats, known collectively as the oral microbiome, are different for every person and can include nearly 900 unique species of bacteria. Changes in the microbiome’s composition as a result of poor oral hygiene can lead to periodontitis, a severe form of gum disease that gradually destroys the bone sockets holding your teeth in place, resulting in tooth loss. The CDC reports that nearly half of all adults in America suffer from mild, moderate, or severe periodontitis. For adults over 65, that number increases to more than 70%.

The bacteria implicated in periodontitis can cause further complications when they enter the bloodstream and travel to other organs throughout the body. Studies suggest that periodontal bacteria can initiate harmful inflammatory reactions in multiple organ systems, increasing the risk or severity of various conditions including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and rheumatoid arthritis.

Oral Bacteria Inside the Brain

Due to their ability to travel through the bloodstream, periodontal pathogens can also enter the brain via a leaky blood-brain barrier. A 2002 study observed that DNA from Treponemaa family of bacteria implicated in periodontitis, was more likely to be present in Alzheimer’s brains compared to healthy brains. A more recent study found virulence factors for the periodontal bacteria P. gingivalis in postmortem brain tissue of Alzheimer’s patients.

Multiple studies have repeatedly correlated periodontitis with reduced cognitive function, as well as higher levels of amyloid beta in the brain. Another study of elderly Chinese adults reported the loss of more than 16 teeth being associated with severe cognitive impairment. In addition, a 2016 study presented evidence that periodontitis might worsen dementia symptoms after observing that Alzheimer’s patients diagnosed with periodontitis had a six-fold increase in the rate of cognitive decline during a six month period.

A recent study, published in January 2019, added more evidence to support a role for oral bacteria in Alzheimer’s. The researchers showed that when mice were infected with P. gingivalis, a common type of periodontal bacteria, they developed many key hallmarks of Alzheimer’s. The group then designed a new drug that inhibited a specific protein from P. gingivalis and administered it to the mice. This treatment halted the progression of Alzheimer’s-like pathology in the mice, suggesting that these kinds of drugs could be useful for treating some cases of Alzheimer’s in humans.

In conclusion, more research is still needed to conclusively support a causal relationship between Alzheimer’s disease and oral infections. However, based on the strong correlational evidence with comorbidity of these two conditions, as well as the more definite links between periodontitis and other health problems, it’s clear that we need to place greater emphasis on the importance of oral hygiene for our overall health. This is particularly true for individuals over the age of 65, who have the greatest risk for both dementia and gum disease. If protecting your brain could be as simple as twice daily brushing, daily flossing, and regular trips to the dentist’s office, there’s no reason we shouldn’t all be taking this initiative.

 

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Book Review: “100 Simple Things You Can Do to Prevent Alzheimer’s”

“100 Simple Things You Can Do to Prevent Alzheimer’s and Age-Related Memory Loss” is a nonfiction book written by Jean Carper, a former medical journalist best known for her award-winning 1996 book “Stop Aging Now!” Carper’s most recent book lists and describes 100 tips for reducing your risk of dementia backed up by scientific data. These include having regular eye exams, eating berries every day, and learning a second language.

“100 Simple Things” is written in jargon-free language that any reader can easily understand while also presenting scientific evidence to back each claim without exaggerating the predicted results. Carper demonstrates a deep understanding of the science of Alzheimer’s disease and following even a few of her tips are quite likely to improve the health of your brain as you age. The back of the book provides an excellent guide for creating “Your Anti-Alzheimer’s Plan,” describing how to incorporate these tips into your lifestyle successfully.

One possible conflict of interest with this book is the fact that Jean Carper is the founder of a vitamin and supplement company called Stop Aging Now, best known for the anti-aging multivitamin that Carper designed. Carper sold the company before publishing this book and no longer has any financial connections, but it’s worth keeping this in mind when reading her advice on supplements. Many experts agree it’s best to get nutrients from your diet rather than from a pill whenever possible, although some supplements such as fish oil are still recommended for brain health. My only other criticism is that the book chapters can be a bit redundant. For example, at least five of the tips essentially described the importance of keeping your brain stimulated through mental activity, several others all discussed social interaction, etc. In my opinion, the book could have easily been condensed into 50 or 75 tips.

Overall, I would highly recommend this book to anyone who is experiencing or at risk of dementia, has a loved one with dementia, or simply wants to learn more about brain health. It is easy to follow, scientifically valid, and realistic for anyone to incorporate into their lifestyle.

Rating: 4.5 stars

 

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