NIH Study Links Lack of Sleep and Alzheimer’s Risk

Sleeplessness and Alzheimer's DiseaseAccording to a new small study, researchers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have found experiencing even one night of sleeplessness may lead to an immediate increase in beta-amyloid, a protein found in the brain and associated with Alzheimer’s disease.  Beta-amyloid proteins clump to together to form amyloid plaques in people with this Alzheimer’s disease.  While this is the first study to show how sleep may be an important factor in clearing beta-amyloid in the human brain, prior studies in mice have shown acute sleep deprivation to be a known cause of elevated beta-amyloid levels.

20 healthy individuals between the ages of 22 and 72 participated in this study. Researchers used PET (positron emission tomography) scans to understand the suspected link between beta-amyloid accumulation and sleep.  PET scans were performed after a night of restful sleep and after a night where the participants remained awake for approximately 31 hours.

Researchers found an increase in beta-amyloid of approximately 5% in various brain regions (thalamus and hippocampus) after the sleep deprivation.  These areas of the brain are especially vulnerable to damage during the early stages of Alzheimer’s.  Researchers did not follow up to see if the increases in beta-amyloid seen in this study subsided after a night of rest.  Additionally researchers found study participants whom experienced larger increases in beta-amyloid reported worse moods after the sleep deprivation.

It is estimated that beta-amyloid increases approximately 43% in individuals with Alzheimer’s disease when compared to healthy older adults.

Further studies are needed with a larger study population and to explore if the link between sleep disorders and Alzheimer’s risks are bidirectional, do increases in beta-amyloid cluster lead to sleep disturbances.

Supplements that may help a person get into a deeper more restful sleep include Melatonin, GABA, Magnesium, Valerian Root Extract, Passion Flower Extract, Hops, Scullcap, 5-HTP, L-Theanine, Collagen Protein and L-Tryptophan.

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Could Melatonin Promote Healthy Ageing?

Melatonin and Anti-AgingA new review published in the British Journal of Pharmacology suggests supplementation with Melatonin may lessen the decreases in the strength of the circadian system seen with ageing.  Melatonin is associated with helping people fall asleep more rapidly as well as helping to realign sleep cycles to a normal dark/light pattern in people who are blind or who suffer from sleep-wake disorders.  Prolonged-release melatonin (PRM) has been shown to reduce nighttime blood pressure in individuals whose blood pressure does not normally drop at night.  For most people, there is a normal reduction in their blood pressure at night.  The risk of cardiovascular problems is significantly higher for individuals who do not experience this reduction.

Melatonin has also been showing promise in the area of Alzheimer’s disease (AD).  Associations between insomnia and AD and other neurodegenerative diseases have been identified.  Poor sleep quality has been associated with the build-up of beta-amyloid plaque in pre-clinical Alzheimer’s.  At this stage of AD neuropathological changes have been accompanied by reduced melatonin levels.  Researchers have also identified a possible correlation between sleep disruptions and a reduction in the ability of the brain to clear beta-amyloid plaque in the area of the brain involved in the speed of the reaction time to a verbal memory task (precuneus).

One study found participants with mild to moderate AD supplementing with a 2 mg/day dose of PRM over a 6 month period either maintained or showed improvements in their cognitive function.

Researchers believe the evidence to date shows sufficient benefits to warrant further studies.

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Study Finds Probiotics May Improve Cognition in Alzheimer’s Patients

Probiotics and Cognition in Alzheimer'sAccording to a new study, probiotics may improve cognitive function in humans.  This is the first time research has shown supplementation of probiotics, friendly bacteria, may aid individuals with Alzheimer’s.

52 women and men between the ages of 60 and 95 with Alzheimer’s Disease participated in this randomized, double blind, controlled clinical trial.  The study lasted twelve weeks.  Half the patients were given milk enhanced with four strains of friendly bacteria (Lactobacillus acidophilus, L. casei, L. fermentum and Bifidobacterium Bifidum) the other half of the participants received only milk.  Blood samples for biochemical analysis were taken at the beginning and at the end of the study period.  Additionally cognitive function tests with MMSE (Mini-Mental State Examination, a standard measure of cognitive impairment) questions were also given; this includes tasks like repeating a phrase, copying a picture, counting backwards from 100 by sevens and giving the current date.

Significant increases (from 8.7 to 10.6 out of a maximum of 30) on the average score on the MMSE questionnaire were seen over the 12 week study period in the group receiving the probiotics.  The control group did not see the same results (from 8.5 to 8.0 out of a maximum of 30).  The participants remained severely cognitively impaired even after the study ended, however the researchers believe the results seen in this study are important because they are the first to show probiotics can improve human cognition.  Prior studies showed probiotics could improve memory as well as impaired spatial learning in diabetic rats.

Probiotics are known for their benefits of provinding protection against irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, periodontal disease, eczema, allergies, tooth decay and infectious diarrheas.  Scientists have believed for a long time that probiotics might improve cognition due to the continuous communication between the brain through the nervous system, immune system and hormones and between the intestinal microflora and the gastrointestinal tract (“microbiota-gut-brain axis”).

Further research is needed to determine if the benefits of probiotics grow stronger over a longer period of time.

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Magnesium Status and Dementia: Is There a Link ?

Magnesium and DementiaA new study published in Neurology, shows people with either low or high blood levels of Magnesium may have a higher risk of developing dementia.

Approximately 9,500 individuals participated in this prospective study.  Participants with an average age of 65 who did not have dementia were followed for an average of 8 years.  Serum Magnesium levels were measured at the start of the study.  Results were adjusted for variables like alcohol intake, body mass index, smoking status and kidney function, which may affect dementia risks and Magnesium levels.  Participants were divided into quintiles based on their serum Magnesium levels.

During this follow up period, over 800 individuals developed dementia.  Over 650 of these individuals were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. The incidence of dementia was found to be 30% higher in both the lowest blood Magnesium groups and the highest blood Magnesium groups.  Since this was an observational study only, no causality could be determined from the study outcomes.

There was however a few limitations on the way the study was set up.  First, Magnesium levels were only taken at the onset of the study, so changes in these blood levels may have occurred during the follow up period.  Second, blood levels of Magnesium may not be a reliable measure of total body Magnesium, meaning a person can have a normal serum Magnesium level and still have a Magnesium deficiency.  These limitations confirm that further research is needed.

The National Institute of Health (NIH) lists Magnesium as being involved in over 300 enzymatic processes in the body, such as helping to maintain normal nerve and muscle functions, keeping our bones strong as well as supporting a healthier immune response.  This important mineral is also necessary for supporting healthy blood pressure and blood sugar management.  70% – 80% of the population in the United States is not achieving the recommended intakes of daily Magnesium.

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Folic Acid and Dementia: Supplementation Benefits Elderly People with Mild Cognitive Decline

Folic Acid and Cognitive ImpairmentElderly people with mild cognitive impairment saw significant improvements in both cognitive performance and reduced inflammation when supplementing with 400 mcg of Folic Acid daily for a period of 12 months.

Over 150 seniors with mild cognitive impairment were randomly assigned to two groups.  One group received daily Folic Acid supplementation (400 mcg) and the other group was a conventional-treatment group.

Significant improvements in cognitive function were seen in the group supplementing with Folic Acid.  Additionally a significant reduction in levels of inflammatory cytokines was seen.  Peripheral inflammatory cytokines appear to be biomarkers for identifying individuals who may be at a greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. Researchers believe looking at the role of inflammatory markers at the onset of dementia, before full clinical dementia syndrome has developed, is essential.  Researchers concluded that folic acid has significant memory enhancing and anti-inflammatory properties.

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Omega-3 Could Aid Alzheimer’s Prevention

Omega-3 and Alzheimer's DiseaseNew research finds individuals with high Omega-3 intakes have an increase in blood flow in the brain suggesting a link might exist between Omega-3 and Alzheimer’s Disease.

Over 160 randomly selected people participated in this trial.  These participants were taken from clinics and their brain function was studied using single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT).  SPECT measures blood perfusion in the brain.  128 regions of the brain were used to collect data on the correlation between Omega-3 blood levels as well as blood flow in the brain.  Resting-state scans were performed while participants were sitting in a dimly lit room with ambient noise and with their eyes open.  For on-task scans participants completed Continuous Performance Tests (CPTs) while the scans were performed.

Significant statistical relationships were found between EPA and DHA (Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids)  levels in the blood and cerebral perfusion in various regions of the brain: areas known for memory encoding and retrieval (parahippocampal gyrus), areas for episodic memory, visuospatial processing, and aspects of consciousness (the right preuneus), and areas associated with bodily locomotion and posture (vermis subregion).

Researchers concluded that Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids (EPA and DHA) may improve brain physiology which in turn leads to better cognitive reserves.

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Vitamin A Status At Birth Linked to Long-Term Risk of Cognitive Impairment and Alzheimer’s

Cognitive FunctionA new study has found elderly individuals with low Vitamin A levels may be more at risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease along with lower brain functioning.  Additionally the study found the even a marginal Vitamin A deficiency at birth might affect long-term risk factors.

This new study was made up of findings from mouse models as well as human population data.  The population study revealed that 75% of those with either a significant or even mild Vitamin A deficiency had some cognitive impairment compared to 47% with normal Vitamin A levels that experienced cognitive impairment.  The research on mice confirmed this finding.  Even a mild Vitamin A deficiency during pregnancy or immediately after birth was associated with an increase in the production of amyloid-beta plaques which are associated with Alzheimer’s disease.  Researchers found that mice deprived of Vitamin A performed poorly on standardized tests of memory as well as learning as adults.  Mice that had Vitamin A withheld while they were in the womb but were given a normal diet after they were born had lower performance in general when compared to mice receiving adequate Vitamin A in the womb but were deprived Vitamin A after birth.  It was found that some reversal of decline could be reversed with adequate Vitamin A supplementation.  Researchers concluded that monitoring Vitamin A during infancy as well as during pregnancy and eliminating a prenatal Vitamin A deficiency may aid in halting Alzheimer’s disease development.

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