Young Blood Elixir for an Aging Brain?

7th July 2014 by Christian Elliott

mouse-young-blood-reverses-agingIn a bit of weird science meets blood magic, a pair of recent research studies have highlighted the potential health benefits of infusing an aging brain and body with younger blood.

A procedure called parabiosis was used in both studies, where the circulatory systems of two mice (one young and one old) are physically stitched together, allowing the blood flow between the young mouse and old mouse to commingle.

The first study, published in Nature Medicine, found that a number of genes important for brain health “turned on” in old mice infused with young blood, leading to neurogenesis, increased synaptic connections, and better cognitive performance. In particular, neurogenesis occurred in the hippocampus, a brain region important for memory and learning.

The second study, published in Science, found increased neural stem cell production along with new blood vessels surrounding the brain in old mice infused young blood.

So what is it about young blood that causes these healthy, rejuvenating changes in aging brains? Frankly, scientists don’t have a clear answer to that yet. There is some tantalizing evidence that a number of proteins in abundance in young mice provide the boost – growth differentiation factor 11 (GDF-11) is one of the proteins called out in these recent studies.

Human trials are probably still a few years away (without the need to surgically combine circulatory systems!) Longer term, it’s possible that the blood proteins responsible for boosting cognitive health can be manufactured for widespread use in older adults – the potential benefits for quality of life and healthcare savings would be substantial.

See also: High Blood Pressure and Cognitive Decline


    Cannabis and the Brain – The Good, The Bad, and The Unknown

    21st June 2014 by Christian Elliott

    cannibas-oil-brainTwo recent published studies in the journal Neurology highlight the interesting intersection between science research, medicine, and public policy that is playing out across the US in regards to legal cannabis (marijuana) consumption.

    Neurology is the science journal of the American Academy of Neurology (AAN). AAN is the professional medical association for neurologists in the US and has over 25,000 members. I think it’s a good thing that the AAN, with its focus on brain health research, has begun to look more closely at the uses and effects of cannabis on brain function from an objective standpoint.

    So, first the good news from cannabis use for people with multiple sclerosis (MS):

    Oral Cannabis Extract (OCE) is effective for pain and muscle spasms in MS

    See the study here. Unfortunately, AAN did not make it clear in media communications that oral cannabis extract – OCE (a processed version of the plant) is the effective MS pain agent, and *not* smoked cannabis, so many mainstream media outlets didn’t accurately report this important detail.

    Another key point is that oral cannabis extract typically contains more cannabidiol (CBD) than tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). CBD is an antioxidant with neuroprotective properties, THC is the main psychoactive “mind altering” agent in cannabis.

    Now on to the bad news from a second study on cannabis use (at least in MS patients):

    Patients with MS who routinely smoke cannabis are more cognitively impaired than nonuser MS patients. Additionally, the MS patients who smoke cannabis showed significant functional brain abnormalities compared to nonuser MS patients, as recorded by MRI brain scans:


    This is one of the first studies to combine neurocognitive testing with functional MRI with smoked cannabis use. The fact that there were functional changes on the MRI scans between the two groups is significant. However, it’s unclear how much of these results can be generalized to healthy adults without any neurological conditions.

    Another recent brain imaging study in the Journal of Neuroscience identified physical, measurable changes in the brains of young adults who habitually smoked cannabis. Two important brain regions involved in motivation and reward, the amygdala and nucleus accumbens, were found to have changed both in size and shape in habitual cannabis users compared to controls.

    There are many unknowns with these recent studies on the interaction between cannabis use, brain health, and treating neurological conditions such as MS. For example, how does dosage of smoked cannabis impact brain health – including the ratio between CBD and THC? Out of the 60+ active agents in cannabis, which ones are responsible for the anatomical and functional brain changes in habitual users of smoked cannabis? Much more work needs to be done in this area.

    Bottom line: Habitual use of many psychoactive substances may cause physical changes in brain regions, as part of a use-feedback loop. The possible behavioral changes (both positive and negative) brought on by these functional changes in brain network organization and activity is unclear. Proceed with caution.

    See also: Alcohol is Your Brain’s Frenemy


      Diabetes Can Shrink Your Brain

      29th May 2014 by Christian Elliott

      diabetes-sugar-brainHaving type 2 diabetes (mellitus) in midlife can cause brain atrophy, memory loss, and cognitive impairment as an older adult, according to a recent study published in the journal Neurology.

      Over 1,430 adults (average age 80) were recruited from the Mayo Clinic Study of Aging, a multi-year project designed to investigate risk factors for cognitive impairment and dementia. Researchers then assessed each participant a variety of known risk factors for Alzheimer’s and dementia, including type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and other vascular health measures.

      It turns out that having type 2 diabetes in midlife (think 30s to 50s) was a primary risk factor for cognitive impairment and loss of brain volume in critical areas for memory, compared to study participants that did not have diabetes in midlife.

      The Neurology study confirms a growing body of evidence that choices we make throughout our life (physical exercise patterns, diet choices, etc) can directly affect our brain health as we age.

      It also appears that even “high normal” blood glucose levels (usually considered pre-diabetes) are associated with impaired memory and cognitive performance. See this article for further detail.

      Bottom line: consistently bad diet choices (high sugar consumption, high saturated fat – the fast food diet) can result in serious brain health issues later in life.

      Try the Healthy Brain Test to learn more about what you can do to keep your brain in good working order.

      Read: Linking Exercise to a Healthy Brain


        Memory Loss Side Effects with Prescription Drugs

        22nd April 2014 by Christian Elliott

        prescription-drugs-memory-lossA number of prescription drugs, especially in combination with each other, can cause unintended memory loss symptoms.

        Some of the more common prescription medications known to cause memory problems are Benzodiazepines (anti-anxiety meds) such as lprazolam (Xanax), chlordiazepoxide (Librium), clonazepam (Klonopin), diazepam (Valium), flurazepam (Dalmane), lorazepam (Ativan), midazolam (Versed), quazepam (Doral), temazepam (Restoril) and triazolam (Halcion).

        Tricyclic antidepressants, initially developed in the 1950s, are now commonly prescribed for other conditions such as chronic pain and eating disorders. Common prescriptions include: Amitriptyline (Elavil), clomipramine (Anafranil), desipramine (Norpramin), doxepin (Sinequan), imipramine (Tofranil), nortriptyline (Pamelor), protriptyline (Vivactil) and trimipramine (Surmontil).

        Anticholinergics are routinely prescribed to older adults for incontinence and overactive bladder. Common prescriptions include: Darifenacin (Enablex), oxybutynin (Ditropan XL, Gelnique, Oxytrol), solifenacin (Vesicare), tolterodine (Detrol) and trospium (Sanctura). Important note: Long term use of anticholinergics in older adults can significantly increase the probability of cognitive impairment and memory loss symptoms. See this study for more detail.

        A Note on Statins (Cholesterol lowering drugs)

        While anecdotal stories have frequently appeared in the media regarding memory loss symptoms being linked to statin drug use, the research evidence is weak and tenuous at best. Potential adverse effects might be resolved by switching from lipophilic to hydrophilic statins. See this study and this study for more detail.

        See also: When Memory Loss isn’t Alzheimer’s – Vitamin B Deficiencies


          Migraine Suppression Device Approved by FDA

          21st April 2014 by Christian Elliott

          migraine-tens-headbandThe U.S. FDA recently approved an interesting approach for treating migraines that doesn’t involve the standard treatment regimen of migraine medications.

          Using the principle of transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), the device is a headband that delivers small electrical impulses to branches of the trigeminal nerve, a nerve responsible for facial sensations and motor functions. The trigeminal nerve is also implicated in migraine attacks.

          The results of a clinical study using the Cefaly headband showed that study participants experienced significantly fewer days with migraines per month and used less migraine attack medication. For people who tend to have adverse side effects from migraine medications, a TENS headband could be a useful alternative.

          An important note: in the clinical trial, the headband device did not reduce pain when a migraine attack was already in progress, so this approach isn’t a cure-all for migraine symptoms.

          See also: Migraine Update: Visual Auras and Heart Health