Tag Archives: Ageing

How to prevent dementia, according to new WHO guidelines

Dementia refers to the decline in mental ability that is severe enough to impair a person’s ability to perform everyday activities. It affects memory, thinking, orientation, comprehension, calculation, learning capacity, language, and judgement. Around 50 million people worldwide have dementia with Alzheimer’s disease as the most common type. And every year brings 10 million new cases, says the report recently released by the World Health Organization (WHO).

“In the next 30 years, the number of people with dementia is expected to triple,” said WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “We need to do everything we can to reduce our risk of dementia. The scientific evidence gathered for these guidelines confirms what we have suspected for some time, that what is good for our heart, is also good for our brain.”

Age is a risk factor so the older you are, the more likely you are to develop dementia. Certain genetic factors are involved with some more unusual forms of dementia — for the most part, dementia develops as a combination of genetic and “environmental” factors (i.e. smoking, lack of regular exercise). Although age is the top risk factor, “dementia is not a natural or inevitable consequence of aging,” the report says.

The report outlined what in WHO’s expert opinion think will and won’t help reduce the risk of dementia. So, if you want to save your brain, here are the do’s and don’ts from the new WHO guidelines for preventing dementia.

The DO’s

Exercise. The role of exercise is especially important. A physically active lifestyle is linked to brain health. A recent study of more than 1,600 people over age 65 found that those who spent more time sitting had the same risk of developing dementia as people who carry a genetic mutation that puts them at higher risk of Alzheimer’s. Weight loss could indirectly reduce the risk of dementia by improving a variety of metabolic factors linked with cognitive impairment and dementia (i.e. glucose tolerance, insulin sensitivity, blood pressure, oxidative stress, and inflammation).

Continue Learning. You’ve heard the saying: “use it or lose it.” Studies show that those who utilize their brains more by learning a new language or musical instrument, or furthering their education tend to have lower rates of dementia and problems with their thinking later in life.

Eat well. A healthy diet contains fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and whole grains. In particular, committing to a Mediterranean diet (plant-based cooking, little meat and a heavy emphasis on olive oil) could help. The Mediterranean diet is the most extensively studied dietary approach, in general as well as in relation to cognitive function. Several systematic reviews of observational studies have concluded that high adherence to this diet is associated with decreased risk of mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s Disease, but modest adherence is not.

Socialize. Socialization is important for all of us. Engaging with other people in social situations help patients suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia and may even slow the progress of these conditions. The Lancet Commission on Dementia Prevention, Intervention, and Care identified social engagement as an intervention that could be used to prevent dementia

Lower Blood Pressure. Lowering blood pressure may help protect memory and thinking skills later in life. A large blood pressure study, called Systolic Blood Pressure Intervention Trial, or SPRINT, looked at over 9,000 people over the age of 50 years old and found that those who lowered their blood pressure to 120 (systolic blood pressure) were 19 percent less likely to develop cognitive impairment. Results were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

The DON’TS

Don’t Smoke. There is strong evidence that smoking is associated with an increased risk of dementia. The toxins in cigarette smoke increase oxidative stress and inflammation, which have both been linked to developing of Alzheimer’s disease. Tobacco cessation is associated with reduced depression, anxiety and stress, and improved mood and quality of life compared with continuing to smoke.

Don’t drink too much. Excessive alcohol consumption leads to numerous health problems such as liver damage, stomach issues, impaired cognitive function, and more. If alcoholic beverages are consumed in large quantities over a relatively short period of times, most health problems can be cured relatively easily using special treatment and by quitting drinking. However, if one abuses alcohol throughout many years, this doesn’t only lead to liver cirrhosis, but also a condition called alcoholic dementia. There is extensive evidence on excessive alcohol as a risk factor for dementia and cognitive decline.

Don’t waste money on supplements. There is currently no evidence to show that taking supplements (i.e. B vitamins, antioxidants, omega-3 ginkgo) reduces the risk of cognitive decline and dementia. In fact, scientific evidence shows that in high doses these supplements may be harmful.

These potentially modifiable risk factors mean that prevention of dementia is possible through a public health approach, including key interventions that delay or slow cognitive decline or dementia. Much of the WHO’s advice is common sense and aligns with what the US National Institute on Aging advises.

Naked mole-rats live extremely long lives and do not age, study finds

Biology’s ‘ugly duckling’ cannot cease to amaze us. Researchers have analyzed a large trove of data on historical naked mole-rat lifespan and discovered something truly amazing. Not only do the naked mole-rats live 5 times longer than a similar-sized mammal, but they also do not show any signs of aging whatsoever.

Credits: Flickr/Tim Evanson

Naked mole-rats’ superpowers

Mole-rats are astonishing creatures. What they lack in aesthetics they make up in superpowers: they’re immune to cancer, don’t feel pain, can switch from being cold-blooded to warm-blooded, can run backward as fast as forward, and can live in extremely low oxygen conditions, their brains being capable of surviving without oxygen for up to five hours. Also, their front teeth grow out in front of their mouths.

Their behavior is even weirder. The African mole-rat, scientifically known as Heterocephalus galber, exhibits eusociality. This means that mole-rats social life is more like an ant’s than that of a typical mammal. Only the queen and one to three chosen males are fertile and are in charge of reproduction. The other members of the colony (usually consisting of almost 300 mole-rats) are in charge of food gathering, burrow security, digging tunnels, tunnel maintenance, some of them even being nannies.

If the queen dies, any other unfertile female can be crowned. The regular working mole-rat is unfertile but can turn on the reproduction function if needed. Some biologists suggest that this could be one of the reasons mole-rats live such long lives, they believe that the tiny creatures are just waiting patiently to have offsprings.

Forever young

Lead researcher Rochelle Buffenstein has studied naked mole-rats for over 30 years and has collected a huge amount data on them, including lifespan. The comparative biologist, who works for Google’s anti-aging company Calico, was completely amazed by the results. She gathered data from over 3,000 specimens from her lab and discovered that the Gompertz-Makeham law, a mathematical equation that relates aging to mortality, doesn’t apply to mole-rats.

Basically, the law says that the risk of dying rises exponentially with age; in humans, for example, it doubles roughly every 8 years after the age of 30. This theory successfully applies to most animals, especially to mammals, but apparently not to our rodent super-heroes. A naked mole-rat’s daily risk of dying is a little more than one in 10,000, even after reaching sexual maturity at 6 months, and stays the same throughout their lives, sometimes even going down a little bit more. If this isn’t unfathomable, I truly don’t know what is.

“To me this is the most exciting data I’ve ever gotten,” says Buffenstein. “It goes against everything we know in terms of mammalian biology.”

Different studies have shown that the rodent possesses certain aging-protective qualities like very active DNA repair and high levels of chaperones, which are helper proteins that support other molecules in folding correctly. Buffenstein thinks that the almost-cute animal focusses more on keeping what it already has, rather than accumulate damage.

Adding the small number of predators, high resistance to cancer and friendly behavior to the equation, we might understand why these animals have such a small risk of dying prematurely.The oldest mole-rat in captivity is 35 years old. A mouse its size lives no longer than 4 years.

But anti-aging is something else, completely. For a change, the mole-rats’ blood vessels retain their elasticity, and the queens do not enter menopause and are still able to breed even at the age of thirty.

“Our research demonstrates that naked mole rats do not age in the same manner as other mammals, and in fact show little to no signs of ageing, and their risk of death does not increase even at 25 times past their time to reproductive maturity,” Buffenstein said.

“These findings reinforce our belief that naked mole rats are exceptional animals to study to further our understanding of the biological mechanisms of longevity.”

The paper was published Jan 24, 2018, in the journal eLIFE.

Hormone therapy successfully used to stop cells from aging for the first time

Researchers have discovered they can use a male hormone to reverse cell ageing, offering hope for treating a host of conditions caused by cell degradation. Their clinical trial is the first time hormones have been proved to reverse the processes that naturally take place in human cells as they age.

Image via Flickr

US and Brazilian researchers have successfully used danazol, a synthetic male hormone, to stop cells from deteriorating with age. The hormone stimulates the production of telomerase, an enzyme which keeps cells “young” by stopping their genetic material from shrinking. It does this by keeping telomeres — the red caps you see in the picture at the end of chromosomes — intact.

“One of the processes associated with ageing is progressive shortening of telomeres, DNA-protecting structures at the ends of chromosomes, like the plastic tips on shoelaces,” explained one of the researchers, Rodrigo Calado from the University of São Paulo in Brazil.

“Each time a cell divides, its telomeres get shorter,” Calado added. “Eventually, the cell can’t replicate anymore and dies or becomes senescent [biologically aged]. However, telomerase can keep the length of telomeres intact, even after cell division.”

In the study, danazol was prescribed over two years for 27 patients suffering from aplastic anaemia (premature ageing of bone marrow stem cells), caused by telomerase gene mutations. Over this time, a person would typically lose 100 to 120 telomere base pairs per year, but someone with a telomerase deficiency could lose between 200 and 600 base pairs.

Telomerase is naturally produced in cells that constantly divide, such as blood-forming stem cells. Previous research has shown that it has a huge role to play in maintaining these cells in working order, and increasing levels of telomerase helps protect them from wearing out over time. On the other hand, a lack of this enzyme can cause organ damage and increases the risk of cancer.

Under the new treatment, the study participants’ cell telomere length not only stopped shrinking but increased by 386 base pairs on average. Hemoglobin mass rose too, which meant patients were no longer dependent on blood transfusions.

This study proves that prescription steroids can be used to increase telomerase production on demand. confirming the results previously seen in the lab in live humans. Based on these findings, new treatments for conditions such as aplastic anemia or pulmonary fibrosis (where the lungs become scarred) could be developed, the team said.

But they should be cautious in developing new treatments – sex hormones can come with notable side effects, including mood swings, tiredness, and digestive system problems.

The full paper, titled “Danazol Treatment for Telomere Diseases” have been published in the New England Journal of Medicine.