Alcohol is Your Brain’s Friend, and Enemy

22nd January 2014 by Christian Elliott

alcohol-brain-healthTake a pass on that third glass of wine (or beer, or liquor) if you want to keep your memory and cognitive health in good shape as you age into your golden years.

That’s the message from a study on alcohol consumption and brain health, published in the journal Neurology.

The study tracked over 7,000 people (average age 56) for a total of 10 years, recording average alcohol consumption for each subject, along with performance on memory and cognitive tests that were administered during the study period.

Researchers divided participants into two groups: Light-Moderate drinkers and Heavy drinkers.

Here’s the important part you need to know: Light-Moderate drinkers consumed 20 grams or less of pure alcohol on a daily basis, equivalent to about 8oz/235ml of wine, or 20oz/585ml of beer – typically a bit less than two drinks.

Heavy drinkers were categorized as consuming at least 36 grams of pure alcohol each day – 3.5 or 4 drinks (or more) every day.

For men in the study, heavy drinkers scored substantially worse on the memory and cognitive health tests during the research period.

An interesting gender difference also appeared in this study: women who abstained from drinking any alcohol showed memory and cognitive decline on test sores compared to women who drank a very light amount of alcohol (about half a glass of wine or beer each day).

This gender difference is probably related to the cardiovascular benefits women enjoy from light alcohol consumption – see this article on how light alcohol use can reduce stroke risk.

Bottom line: Moderation is a virtue, when it comes to alcohol and your brain health!

    Merck Advances BACE Inhibitor Trial for Alzheimer’s Disease

    16th January 2014 by Christian Elliott

    BACE-AD-trial-merckMerck announced last month that it is moving ahead with MK-8931, an experimental BACE inhibitor drug designed to slow the production of amyloid beta protein in the brain, one of the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease.

    Beta secretase (BACE) inhibitors work by interfering with the process that creates amyloid beta protein in the first place, in the theory that halting production of amyloid beta will vastly reduce the chances of Alzheimer’s disease.

    Patient safety in Merck’s Phase 2 & 3 clinical trials should be closely monitored. In addition to controlling the formation of amyloid beta protein in the brain, BACE is also involved in the development of myelin sheathes — the “insulation” surrounding the long axons of nerves throughout the human body.

    The possibility of serious unintended consequences can happen when drugs tinker with a basic process that controls several important functions, in addition to the one it happens to target, in this case halting the process of amyloid beta production.

    Another unanswered question is whether amyloid beta toxicity in the brain is the actual cause of Alzheimer’s disease, or if it is simply a robust biomarker (or evidence trail) of disease progression.

    Stay tuned for updates on Alzheimer’s drug trial progress.

      SAGE Test-Self Administered Gerocognitive Exam Review

      13th January 2014 by admin

      SAGE cognitive screening testWe are adding the Self Administered Gerocognitive Exam (SAGE) test to the list of validated cognitive screening instruments that can be administered in pen and paper format.

      The 15 minute SAGE test, used to screen for early signs of Alzheimer’s and dementia, was developed and validated by a research team at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.

      SAGE test components include orientation (month + date + year); language (verbal fluency + picture naming); reasoning/computation (abstraction + calculation); visuospatial (three-dimensional construction + clock drawing); executive (problem solving) and memory abilities.

      The SAGE test form and scoring instructions can be downloaded here.

        How a Good Night’s Sleep Helps Support Brain Health

        7th January 2014 by Christian Elliott

        brain-sleepA pair of recent research studies on sleep highlight how important quality of sleep is for a healthy brain.

        Our brains consume over 20% of all metabolic activity (mainly oxygen & glucose) in the human body, even though the average brain comprises only 2% of body weight. This outsize power usage produces a host of byproducts, including amyloid beta protein, one of the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease.

        The first study, published in the journal Science, looked at how the brain clears metabolic debris from a busy day. During sleep, researchers found that the interstitial volume (the fluid filled space between brain cells) increased by 60%, which allowed the brain to clear amyloid beta and other waste products at a much faster rate than during waking hours.

        In other words, the brain’s garbage disposal system kicks into high gear when we are sleeping, clearing toxic amyloid beta, and getting us ready for the new day.

        This leads us to the second study published in JAMA Neurology, which found a strong correlation between poor quality sleep (both short & disturbed sleep patterns) and a chronic buildup of amyloid beta protein in the brain. It’s unclear whether poor sleep triggers the amyloid accumulation in the brain, or if the amyloid beta buildup prevents quality sleep – it’s probably a cascade process that triggers a harmful feedback loop.

        Bottom line: get a solid 8 hours of sleep each night for good brain health. Keep in mind these sleep hygiene tips:

        • Associate your bed and bedroom with sleep. It’s not a good idea to use your bed to watch TV, listen to the radio, or read.
        • Avoid stimulants such as caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol too close to bedtime. (Alcohol metabolizes into glucose, which is a stimulant to the body.)
        • Ensure adequate exposure to natural light during waking hours – use a lamp that simulates sunlight if necessary.
        • Daytime exercise can promote good sleep. A relaxing exercise, like yoga or meditation, can also be done before bed to help initiate a restful night’s sleep.

        See also: Linking Exercise to a Healthy Brain

        See also: When Memory Loss is not Alzheimer’s: Vitamin B Deficiencies

          Sports Concussion Update: Pop Warner Starts to Shrink

          19th November 2013 by Christian Elliott

          The Pop Warner youth football group shrank by over 25,000 members since 2010, according to several recent news reports.

          We believe this is the beginning of a long term decline in football program participation rates among grade school age to high school age players, who form the lower steps of a broad feeder system into college and professional football teams.

          The main reason for this sharp fall in Pop Warner rosters: growing awareness of the long term dangers of concussions on the playing field — especially for players who experience multiple concussions.

          The declining interest in Pop Warner football isn’t by any means an immediate threat to the NFL, which is best viewed as a multi-billion dollar entertainment franchise.

          It does, however, suggest a long term secular shift away from heavy contact sports in school age team sports programs.

          See also: Soccer Headers & Brain Damage – An Open Question?