7 Ways to Keep Your Brain Healthy

Smoking, diabetes, and high blood pressure can take a toll on your brain. Here are things that can help.

The condition of your blood vessels may determine a lot about the health of your brain, according to new research.

Researchers from the University of Edinburgh found that a variety of factors including smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes — all conditions that affect your blood vessels or vascular risk factors — may also hurt your brain.

Over time, these factors may lead to brain deterioration and increase the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease or other forms of dementia.

This new study published March 11 looked at the MRI scans of brains from 9,772 people between the ages of 44 and 79.

Specifically, the researchers, who were led by Simon Cox, PhD, a senior research associate at the University of Edinburgh's Centre for Cognitive Ageing and Cognitive Epidemiology, examined connections between seven vascular risk factors — smoking, hypertension, pulse pressure, diabetes, [high cholesterol], body mass index (BMI), and waist-hip ratio — and structures of the brain responsible for complex thinking. These areas are known to deteriorate as dementia develops.

To determine the impact of these vascular risk factors on brains, the researchers compared brain scans from people of similar head size, age, and sex.

They found that smoking, high blood pressure, and diabetes were the three vascular risk factors with the most consistent connections to brain atrophy and loss of both grey and white brain matter.

Vascular risks increase brain health risks

The researchers were able to use the brain scans to quantify exactly how much brain matter is lost when these vascular risk factors are present.

People with the highest vascular risk had around 18 milliliters (ml), or nearly 3 percent, less volume of gray matter compared to people without the risk factors.

Grey matter is brain tissue on the surface of the brain that houses most of the neurons. Neurons send messages through your brain to your body. When they're impaired, your reactions and processing slow down.

Additionally, these scans showed that individuals with vascular risk had one-and-a-half times the damage to their white matter compared to people without the risks.

White matter is deeper in the brain than gray matter. It naturally declines with age, but previous research has shown that white matter loss is linked to slower thought processing and reduced executive functioning. Vascular risk factors may speed up this loss.

The study also found that damage to the brains wasn't even across the whole of the brain. Indeed, specific areas were more likely to be affected by the atrophy, and these areas have significant impacts on cognitive health.

“The areas affected were mainly those known to be linked to our more complex thinking skills and to those areas that show changes in dementia and ‘typical' Alzheimer's disease,” Cox said. “Although the differences in brain structure were generally quite small, these are only a few possible factors of a potentially huge number of things that might affect brain aging.”

Any perceived protective benefits of younger age are wiped out when these vascular risk factors are present, the researchers also discovered.

“We found that higher vascular risk is linked to worse brain structure, even in adults who were otherwise healthy,” Cox said in a statement . “These links were just as strong for people in middle age as they were for those in later life, and the addition of each risk factor increased the size of the association with worse brain health.”

“No matter what age, our behaviors impact the health of our bodies and our brains,” Dr. David A. Merrill, PhD, neurologist and geriatric psychiatrist at Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, California, told Healthline.

“This means that younger adults need to be aware of the importance of not taking on unhealthy habits like smoking, physical inactivity, overeating, or unhealthy eating. Even in younger adults, unhealthy habits can take a toll on the structural integrity of the brain and its connections,” Merrill said.

“This is a very important study, which serves as a wake-up call to all patients who have cardiovascular risk factors such as smoking, high blood pressure, high pulse pressure, diabetes, and obesity,” Guy L. Mintz, director of cardiovascular health and lipidology at Northwell Health's Sandra Atlas Bass Heart Hospital in Manhasset, New York, told Healthline. “This study demonstrated that these risk factors are associated with brain shrinkage. The cause for this type of brain damage is most likely injury to the blood vessels.”

While this study didn't connect the changes in brain size and brain matter to changes in thinking skills — future studies from this group may tackle that question — it does point to the importance of preventing vascular risk factors with lifestyle changes and traditional medical approaches when necessary.

7 Ways to Keep Your Brain Healthy

Smoking, diabetes, and high blood pressure can take a toll on your brain. Here are things that can help.

Working out can help keep your brain healthy as you age. Getty Images

The condition of your blood vessels may determine a lot about the health of your brain, according to new research.

Researchers from the University of Edinburgh found that a variety of factors including smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes — all conditions that affect your blood vessels or vascular risk factors — may also hurt your brain.

Over time, these factors may lead to brain deterioration and increase the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease or other forms of dementia.

This new study published March 11 looked at the MRI scans of brains from 9,772 people between the ages of 44 and 79.

Specifically, the researchers, who were led by Simon Cox, PhD, a senior research associate at the University of Edinburgh's Centre for Cognitive Ageing and Cognitive Epidemiology, examined connections between seven vascular risk factors — smoking, hypertension, pulse pressure, diabetes, [high cholesterol], body mass index (BMI), and waist-hip ratio — and structures of the brain responsible for complex thinking. These areas are known to deteriorate as dementia develops.

To determine the impact of these vascular risk factors on brains, the researchers compared brain scans from people of similar head size, age, and sex.

They found that smoking, high blood pressure, and diabetes were the three vascular risk factors with the most consistent connections to brain atrophy and loss of both grey and white brain matter.

Indeed, all risk factors except high cholesterol were associated with some degree of brain health decline.

Vascular risks increase brain health risks

The researchers were able to use the brain scans to quantify exactly how much brain matter is lost when these vascular risk factors are present.

People with the highest vascular risk had around 18 milliliters (ml), or nearly 3 percent, less volume of gray matter compared to people without the risk factors.

Grey matter is brain tissue on the surface of the brain that houses most of the neurons. Neurons send messages through your brain to your body. When they're impaired, your reactions and processing slow down.

Additionally, these scans showed that individuals with vascular risk had one-and-a-half times the damage to their white matter compared to people without the risks.

White matter is deeper in the brain than gray matter. It naturally declines with age, but previous research has shown that white matter loss is linked to slower thought processing and reduced executive functioning. Vascular risk factors may speed up this loss.

The study also found that damage to the brains wasn't even across the whole of the brain. Indeed, specific areas were more likely to be affected by the atrophy, and these areas have significant impacts on cognitive health.

“The areas affected were mainly those known to be linked to our more complex thinking skills and to those areas that show changes in dementia and ‘typical' Alzheimer's disease,” Cox said. “Although the differences in brain structure were generally quite small, these are only a few possible factors of a potentially huge number of things that might affect brain aging.”

Any perceived protective benefits of younger age are wiped out when these vascular risk factors are present, the researchers also discovered.

“We found that higher vascular risk is linked to worse brain structure, even in adults who were otherwise healthy,” Cox said in a statement . “These links were just as strong for people in middle age as they were for those in later life, and the addition of each risk factor increased the size of the association with worse brain health.”

“No matter what age, our behaviors impact the health of our bodies and our brains,” Dr. David A. Merrill, PhD, neurologist and geriatric psychiatrist at Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, California, told Healthline.

“This means that younger adults need to be aware of the importance of not taking on unhealthy habits like smoking, physical inactivity, overeating, or unhealthy eating. Even in younger adults, unhealthy habits can take a toll on the structural integrity of the brain and its connections,” Merrill said.

“This is a very important study, which serves as a wake-up call to all patients who have cardiovascular risk factors such as smoking, high blood pressure, high pulse pressure, diabetes, and obesity,” Guy L. Mintz, director of cardiovascular health and lipidology at Northwell Health's Sandra Atlas Bass Heart Hospital in Manhasset, New York, told Healthline. “This study demonstrated that these risk factors are associated with brain shrinkage. The cause for this type of brain damage is most likely injury to the blood vessels.”

While this study didn't connect the changes in brain size and brain matter to changes in thinking skills — future studies from this group may tackle that question — it does point to the importance of preventing vascular risk factors with lifestyle changes and traditional medical approaches when necessary.

Lifestyle changes protect the heart — and the brain

“It's never too late to improve your brain health,” Lainey Younkin, MS, RD, LDN, registered dietitian and founder of Lainey Younkin Nutrition , told Healthline. These tips may help improve your physical health, your brain health, and your cognitive abilities.

Move more

Aim for 150 minutes or more of aerobic exercise each week. If you've not been moving regularly, don't worry.

Merrill pointed out that one study found sedentary older adults who participated in a new habit of walking regularly for one year showed significant improvements in memory performance that also related to growth of memory areas in the brain.

Build muscle

Aerobic exercise coupled with strength training at least two times per week has been shown to improve heart health, according to Merrill. “We now know that these activities in all likelihood also improve brain health,” he said.

Eat a heart-healthy diet

“In addition to eating brain-boosting foods like blueberries, nuts, and fatty fish, cut back on frozen meals, take out, deli meat, and cheese, which are some of the highest sources of sodium in the American diet that can drive up blood pressure,” Younkin said.

She added that there are clear guidelines for how to approach each meal.

“Aim to make half your plate non-starchy vegetables and a quarter of your plate whole grains,” she said. “The increase in fiber and decrease in ‘empty' carbohydrates will help you maintain a healthy weight and keep your blood sugar stable.”

Be more mindful

Anxiety and stress take a toll on your mental health, but they can also impact your physical and brain health, too. Regular meditation or a mindfulness practice may help reduce the risk of worsening vascular health.

Sleep tight

Poor or inadequate sleep is associated with worsening health and vascular risk factors, including high blood pressure and weight gain.

Your brain needs those “off” hours to help clean up neurons and synapses and make memories. When you don't get quality sleep, your brain health and your physical health are significantly impacted.

Use your brain

“Remaining cognitively active through social activities, like attending a book club or taking a cooking class, may help slow down or stave off the development of memory loss and associated depression with aging,” Merrill said.

Watch your blood pressure

Check your blood pressure regularly, or at least every six months. Watch for signs of a creeping increase.

“This study indicates that the 2017 high blood pressure guidelines, which state that high blood pressure is now defined as a blood pressure greater than 130/90, is on the money,” Mintz said. “The new guidelines for high blood pressure will help us recognize people at earlier ages who are at risk for lifelong high blood pressure.”

The bottom line

Research connecting poor physical health with deteriorating brain health is increasing. This study finds that vascular risk factors can damage your brain's health, which could slow thinking skills and even lead to changes that resemble Alzheimer's disease and dementia.

Many of these vascular risk factors, however, are preventable.

“This study has a strong public health message,” Mintz said. “Patients can help themselves.”

A healthy lifestyle can help you prevent risk factors like high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity. If you already have one or more of these risk factors, you may be able to make lifestyle changes that can reverse the conditions and help improve your brain health.

Vitamin D May Help Ease Children's Asthma Caused by Air Pollution

Researchers say African-American children and urban children who are indoors a lot are most affected.

Vitamin D may help ease asthma symptoms for obese children living in urban environments with high indoor air pollution.

Recent research from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Maryland found that having low levels of vitamin D was associated with respiratory problems from indoor air pollution in obese children in urban areas.

The researchers examined 120 children over a 9-month period in the Baltimore area. They tested the vitamin D levels in the blood of the children, their asthma symptoms, and the level of air pollution in their homes.

Of the 120 children involved in the research, all had preexisting asthma, and 1/3 were obese.

“Baltimore is one example where urban minority populations in the U.S. suffer disproportionately heavy burden of asthma. We know from our prior work that indoor air pollution is a significant contributing factor to asthma symptoms, especially among urban children who spend the majority of their time indoors,” Sonali Bose, MD, study author and assistant professor of medicine in the Division of Pulmonary, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, told Healthline.

“There's emerging scientific literature in support of the protective role of vitamin D in asthma, and therefore we wondered if low vitamin D levels in children with asthma might make them more vulnerable to the effects of indoor air pollution,” added Dr. Bose, who's also on the adjunct faculty at Johns Hopkins. “By identifying individual risk factors, such as dietary factors, that may potentially be modifiable, we can begin to find ways to protect children from harmful effects of air pollution in the future.”

The researchers found that in homes with the highest levels of indoor air pollution, children who were obese and had higher blood vitamin D levels had fewer asthma-related symptoms.

Indoor air quality

Urban children are particularly vulnerable to indoor air pollution due to the significant amount of time they spend indoors.

Incense, smoke from cooking, cigarette smoke, and candles can all worsen symptoms of asthma in children. Such environmental triggers can cause wheezing, tightness in the chest, and breathlessness.

“A child with asthma has inflammation in their airways along with constriction of the muscle in their airways, causing narrowing of these breathing tubes, making it much harder to breathe. It is essentially like breathing out of a straw,” Purvi Parikh, MD, a spokesperson for the Allergy and Asthma Network, and an allergist in New York City, told Healthline.

The connection to vitamin D

Recent research has suggested there may be a link between vitamin D levels and asthma.

In one study , researchers compared asthma diagnoses, vitamin D levels. and lung function in 10,000 children and more than 24,000 adults. They found that low levels of vitamin D among those studied were associated with a diagnosis of asthma as well as reduced lung function.

The role of vitamin D in bone strength has been well established , but researchers believe the vitamin also plays an important role in the production of insulin as well as in the functioning of the immune system.

Experts says it isn't just obese children in urban environments whose asthma, and overall health, may be influenced by their vitamin D levels.

“Many studies have shown vitamin D helps not only asthma but all inflammatory conditions,” Dr. Parikh said.

“Both obesity and air pollution are risk factors for poor asthma control. Vitamin D, however, may help mitigate that risk. This underscores the importance of normal levels,” she said.

Tiny robotic tool to detect, kill cancer cells

The study, published in the journal Science Robotics, described the design in which a magnetic iron bead about 100 times smaller than the thickness of a human hair can be coaxed into any desired position within the cell, the Xinhua reported.

Canadian scientists have developed a kind of magnetic tweezer that can precisely insert a minuscule bead robot into a live human cancer cell, pointing to a new option for diagnosing and killing cancer.

The study, published in the journal Science Robotics , described the design in which a magnetic iron bead about 100 times smaller than the thickness of a human hair can be coaxed into any desired position within the cell, the Xinhua reported.

The bead, about 700 nanometres in diameter, is placed on the microscope coverslip surrounded by six magnetic coils in different planes, and the cancer cell can swallow the bead into its membrane.

Then, the researchers from University of Toronto controlled the bead's position under a microscope, using a computer-controlled algorithm to vary the electrical current through coils and shaping the magnetic field in three dimensions.

The researchers used their robotic system to study early-stage and later-stage bladder cancer cells. Previously, they had to extract the cell nuclei to examine it.

The team measured cell nuclei in intact cells instead of breaking apart the cell membrane, showing that the nucleus is not equally stiff in all directions.

"It's a bit like a football in shape. Mechanically, it's stiffer along one axis than the other," said Professor Sun Yu.

"We wouldn't have known that without this new technique."

They were able to measure how much stiffer the nucleus got when prodded repeatedly, and thus find out which cell protein or proteins might play a role in controlling this response, which could work as a new method of detecting cancer in early stage.

In the later-stage cells, the stiffening response is not as strong as they are in the early stage, though both are seemingly similar, the researchers said.

Also, the team visualised using the tiny robots to either starve a tumour by blocking its blood vessels, or destroy it directly through mechanical ablation, although those applications are still a long way from clinical uses.

Glenmark Pharmaceuticals gets USFDA nod for contraceptive drugs

The company's current portfolio consists of 137 products authorised for distribution at the US marketplace and 61 Abbreviated New Drug Applications (ANDAs) pending approval with the USFDA.

Glenmark Pharmaceuticals has received final approval from the US health regulator for generic versions of Loestrin tablets, used to prevent pregnancy.

" Glenmark Pharmaceuticals Inc., USA has been granted final approval by the United States Food & Drug Administration ( USFDA ) for Hailey 1.5/30 (Norethindrone Acetate and Ethinyl Estradiol tablets USP, 1.5 mg/30 mcg) and Hailey Fe 1.5/30 (Norethindrone Acetate and Ethinyl Estradiol tablets, USP and Ferrous Fumarate tablets, 1.5 mg/30 mcg)," the company said in a BSE filing.

The approved products are generic versions of Allergan Pharmaceuticals' Loestrin 21 1.5/30 and Loestrin Fe 1.5/30 tablets.

For the 12 months to April 2018, the Loestrin 21 1.5/30 and Leostrin Fe 1.5/30 tablets market achieved annual sales of approximately USD 24.2 million and USD 41.3 million respectively, Glenmark said, citing IQVIATM sales data.

The company's current portfolio consists of 137 products authorised for distribution at the US marketplace and 61 Abbreviated New Drug Applications (ANDAs) pending approval with the USFDA.

The company's stock was trading at Rs 528.10, down 0.28 per cent, on the BSE.

 

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Ways to Keep Your Brain Healthy