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These 7 Weird Things Are Linked to Memory Loss Later in Life

It may seem like common sense, but new science is finally showing that what’s good for your body is also good for your brain. Things like exercise, eating well, and keeping bodyfat in check all appear to be good things for your mind. In fact, they may even reduce the buildup of the proteins related to Alzheimer’s.1 

And while there are lots of things that are good for your brain, researchers have identified other factors that appear to be bad. 

A few of them are expected (genetics for example). Others are a bit more surprising. Here are 7 that you need to be aware of.

Air Pollution

New research shows that women who live in areas with high pollution levels consisting mostly of fine particulate matter (small particles that can be inhaled) have a 92% higher likelihood of developing dementia than those living in climates with cleaner air.2

Women who had the APOE4 gene (a genetic variation that increases the risk for Alzheimer’s disease) showed the strongest predisposition. And according to the study’s authors, if this trend holds true for the general population, air pollution may in fact be responsible for up to 21% of all dementia cases. 

Richard Isaacson, MD, director of the Alzheimer’s Prevention Clinic at New York-Presbyterian Weill Cornell Medical Center (one of the study’s authors) said, “When we breathe in these tiny particles, it can trigger inflammation throughout the body,” says “And for certain people, inflammation seems to be a way of pressing the fast-forward button on the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.”

Poor Sleep

Sleep is a lot more important for brain health than once thought. Lack of sleep can lead to brain fog the following day, but clinical studies also show that difficulty sleeping may have a cumulative effect on the brain and may be linked to the buildup of Alzheimer's-related brain proteins.3

Scientists believe that with exercise it’s possible to loosen the amyloid plaques in the brain, but good, healthy sleep is necessry to actually rid the body of them. “Sleep is absolutely essential for taking out the garbage and keeping your brain healthy over time,” says Dr. Isaacson.

Difficulty Smelling

The ability for someone to recognize familiar smells may be a good indication as to whether they may develop Alzheimer’s.

A recent clinical study published in the Annals of Neurology discovered that volunteers who had difficulty identifying certain smells like menthol, clove, strawberry, and lemon seemed to be at an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease.4

According to Dr. Isaacson, “When someone can’t distinguish between different smells, it may absolutely be a signal that Alzheimer’s disease is brewing,” (It can also be an early sign of Parkinson’s disease and other neurological problems, he continued.) 

According to brain health experts, something as inexpensive, simple and easy to implement like a scratch-and-sniff test could be a great way to screen people early on.

Your Eating Habits

According to Dr. Isaacson one of the best and easiest ways to reduce your risk of dementia is to simply eat an early dinner and not eat again until the next morning.5 

He says, “fasting for a minimum of 12 hours, as well as eating fewer calories overall, may be a way to promote brain health as we age.”

By restricting calories overnight, you trigger your body to release ketones.6 

“It helps you fuel the brain with something that’s not only more efficient from an energy-burning standpoint, but that may have an anti-aging effect as well”, he continued. 

Previous Concussions

For people with a predisposition to Alzheimer’s due to family history, any type of head trauma can accelerate the brain changes and cognitive decline associated with the disease. 

A recent study in the journal Brain, showed that young to middle-aged adults who’ve had at least one concussion and had a genetic predisposition to Alzheimer’s had less grey matter in key areas of the brain associated with dementia, compared to a control group.7

They also had each participant perform a recall test where they performed worse than the control group. These findings suggest that the trauma may play a key role in memory function. 

Researchers are hoping to use these findings in efforts to identify people at an earlier age who are at risk for Alzheimer’s disease. 

Loneliness

According to a study published in JAMA Psychiatry, senior citizens who were classified as being lonely were 7.5 times more likely to develop amyloid protein clusters.8

While the connection is clear experts are still not sure which comes first—if the symptoms of dementia cause people to feel lonely and left out, or if feeling lonely actually contributes to the development of dementia—their suspicions are that they may both be true.

High Blood Pressure

A recent study published in the journal Alzheimer's & Dementia appears to be counterintuitive. Their findings suggest that when hypertension begins in old-age it appears to reduce Alzheimer’s symptoms.9 

Dr. Isaacson explains, “As we get more frail, having a reserve of blood pressure may actually be protective.”

While these findings are interesting, researchers caution that high blood pressure in young and middle-aged adults can actually increase the risk of dementia in later life.10 

"Knowing your numbers when it comes to blood pressure, cholesterol, and body mass index—and talking with your doctor about how you can optimize those numbers—is still one of the most important things you can do," says Dr. Isaacson.

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References:

1. Merrill, David A. et al. "Modifiable Risk Factors And Brain Positron Emission Tomography Measures Of Amyloid And Tau In Nondemented Adults With Memory Complaints." The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry 24.9 (2016): 729-737.

2. Cacciottolo, M et al. "Particulate Air Pollutants, APOE Alleles And Their Contributions To Cognitive Impairment In Older Women And To Amyloidogenesis In Experimental Models." Translational Psychiatry 7.1 (2017): e1022-e1022.

3. "Does Poor Sleep Raise Risk For Alzheimer's Disease?." National Institute on Aging. N.p., 2016.

4. Yaffe, Kristine et al. "Olfaction And Risk Of Dementia In A Biracial Cohort Of Older Adults." Neurology 88.5 (2016): 456-462.

5. Anton, Stephen D. et al. "Flipping The Metabolic Switch: Understanding And Applying The Health Benefits Of Fasting." Obesity 26.2 (2017): 254-268.

6. Reas, Emilie. "Ketones To Combat Alzheimer's Disease | PLOS Neuroscience Community." PLOS Neuroscience Community. N.p., 2016.

7. Becker, Kate. "Study Links Concussion, Genes, And Alzheimer’S | Research." Bu.edu. N.p., 2017.

8. Donovan, Nancy J. et al. "Association Of Higher Cortical Amyloid Burden With Loneliness In Cognitively Normal Older Adults." JAMA Psychiatry 73.12 (2016): 1230.

9. Corrada, María M. et al. "Age Of Onset Of Hypertension And Risk Of Dementia In The Oldest-Old: The 90+ Study." Alzheimer's & Dementia 13.2 (2017): 103-110.

10. Iadecola, Costantino et al. "Impact Of Hypertension On Cognitive Function: A Scientific Statement From The American Heart Association." Hypertension 68.6 (2016): e67-e94.

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