Binge Eating Disorder

Posted on Posted in Brain Science, Continuing Education, Nutrition, Seminars, Webinars

binge-eatingBinge eating disorder is an illness that resembles bulimia nervosa. Like bulimia, the disorder is characterized by episodes of uncontrolled eating or binging—occurring, on average, at least once a week for three months, according to DSM-5 (“Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, ” version 5).  However, binge eating disorder differs from bulimia because its sufferers do not purge their bodies of excess food.

Individuals with binge eating disorder feel that they lose control of themselves when eating. While they commonly eat fewer meals than people without eating disorders, when they do eat, they eat rapidly, consuming large quantities of food.  They do not stop until they are uncomfortably full. When binging, they typically do so alone because of feeling embarrassed by how much they are eating.  They tend to feel disgusted with themselves, depressed, or very guilty afterward. Usually, they have more difficulty losing weight and keeping it off than do people with other serious weight problems. Most people with the disorder are obese and have a history of weight fluctuations.

Binge eating disorder is found in about two percent of the general population—more often in women than men. Recent research shows that binge eating disorder occurs in about 30 percent of people participating in medically-supervised, weight-control programs.

Because people with binge eating disorder are usually overweight, they are prone to the serious medical problems associated with obesity, such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes. Obese individuals also have a higher risk for gallbladder disease, heart disease, and some types of cancer. Research at the National Institutes of Health and elsewhere has shown that individuals with binge eating disorder have high rates of co-occurring psychiatric illnesses, especially depression.

Cognitive behavioral therapy and interpersonal therapy are the treatments found to produce the greatest degree of remission in patients with binge eating disorder.  These therapies result in improvements in specific eating disorder psychopathology and associated psychiatric problems, such as depression and psychosocial functioning (Wilson, 2011).

Epidemiology of Eating Disorders

 Estimates of the incidence or prevalence of eating disorders vary depending on the sampling and assessment methods.

  • An estimated five million Americans suffer from eating disorders at any given time, including approximately five percent of women and less than one percent of men.  The disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder.
  • Estimates of the male-female prevalence ratio range from 1:5 to 1:1 (although 19 to 30 percent of younger patient populations with anorexia nervosa are male).
  • The reported lifetime prevalence of anorexia nervosa among women has ranged from 0.5 percent for narrowly defined cases to four percent for more broadly defined cases of anorexia nervosa.
  • Estimates of the lifetime prevalence of bulimia nervosa among women have ranged from 1.1 to 4.2 percent. Some studies suggest that the prevalence of bulimia nervosa in the United States may have decreased slightly in recent years.
  • An estimated 85 percent of eating disorders have their onset during adolescence.
  • Approximately 5 to 1.0 percent of adolescents suffer from anorexia nervosa and one to five percent suffer from bulimia nervosa. Female college students are at highest risk of the latter.
  • The prevalence of anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa in children and younger adolescents is unknown.
  • While eating disorders have generally been recognized as affecting a narrow population of Caucasian adolescent or adult young women from developed Western countries, in recent years, data are steadily accumulating to document that:
  1. eating disorders have become more common in pre-pubertal children and women in middle and late adulthood in such countries.
  2. ethnic and racial minority groups in these countries are vulnerable to eating disorders.
  3. there is nothing uniquely “Western” about eating disorders, which are a global health problem (Pike et al, 2013).

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History of Meditation

Posted on Posted in Brain Science, Continuing Education, Homestudy, Psychology

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By Barbara Sternberg, Ph.D.

The earliest roots of meditation go back too far to trace with full confidence. We do know, however, that the practice of meditation was refined in the temples, caves, and monasteries of the East and Near East.  Meditation has found its way to the West in the past century. In slightly different form, meditation also appears in the Judeo-Christian tradition.

Meditation dates back to our earliest ancestors, who stared in wonder at the sky as they waited for hours to hunt for prey.  Perhaps these ancestors waited while communal fires burned. Our ancestors had plenty of time on their hands.  Because meditation entails a shift from thinking and doing to just “being,” these ancestors were probably able to meditate during the course of many of their days.

Long before the arrival of Buddha in the East, or the great Indian yogis, shamans — people with alleged access to what is good and evil — living in hunter-gatherer cultures all over the world used meditative techniques to enter altered states of consciousness known as trances. Focusing their minds using simple rhythms and chants, and sometimes employing hallucinogenic substances, these shamans traveled to the “spirit world” and returned with wisdom, healing abilities, magic abilities, and spirit blessings to bestow on their people.

Cave paintings dating back at least 15,000 years show figures lying on the ground in poses of meditative absorption. Scholars have determined that these were shamans in a trance state asking the spirits for a successful hunt. Other cave pictures showed shamans transformed into animals and taking on the animals’ magical powers.

Although shamanism has declined considerably, there are still world cultures that utilize shamans as healers, guides for the dead, and intermediaries between humans and spirits. Recent years have shown an upsurge of interest in shamanism, due in some part to the writings of Carlos Castaneda, Michael Harner, and Joseph Campbell.

But perhaps meditation’s deepest roots can be traced to India, where sadhus (traveling holy men and women) and yogis have practiced meditation in one form or another for more than 5,000 years. It was in India that meditation first flourished, and it is from India that meditation later traveled and spread to distant parts of the globe.

The earliest Indian scriptures, the Vedas, don’t have a word for meditation but described what are now known to be meditative rituals requiring great concentration. Over time, these practices evolved into a type of prayerful meditation that entailed the use of breath control with devotional focus on the Divine. From these earliest roots, three of India’s best-known meditative traditions blossomed:  yoga; Buddhism; and tantra (a range of religious traditions).

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Seasonal Affective Disorder

Posted on Posted in Brain Science, Continuing Education, Homestudy, Psychology, Seminars, Webinars

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By Nikita Katz, MD, PhD

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), also known as winter depression and winter blues, is a type of mood disorder that is typically caused by low light levels. SAD generally begins in the fall and worsens during the winter months.  The rarer, reverse seasonal affective disorder (summer blues, summer depression) begins in the spring and worsens in the in the summer.

SAD is generally found more frequently in people who live in latitudes far north or south of the equator (for example, one percent in Florida; four percent in Washington, D.C.; 10 percent in Alaska).  Some patients experience a serious mood change when the seasons change. They may sleep too much, have little energy, and crave sweets and starchy foods. They may also feel depressed. Although symptoms may be severe, they generally resolve over several months.

SAD can be a serious disorder that may require hospitalization. There is a potential risk of suicide among some individuals experiencing SAD. The symptoms of SAD mimic those of clinical depression or dysthymia. The prevalence of SAD in the adult American population has been estimated at between 1.5 percent in Florida and about nine percent in the northern US.  Overall, 6.1 percent of the US population is affected by SAD. Subsyndromal seasonal affective disorder is a milder form of SAD estimated to affect 14.3 percent of the American population.

Seasonal affective disorder is more common in women than men and in people between the ages of 15 and 55 years. The risk of developing SAD for the first time decreases with age. People who have a close relative with SAD are also at greater risk.

CAUSES

There is strong evidence that SAD is caused by a lack of available sunlight. Decreased exposure to sunlight may have an effect on the body’s biological clock, which regulates mood, sleep, and hormone production. Exposure to light may reset the biological clock. Melatonin and serotonin synthesis may be altered in individuals with SAD. Exposure to light appears to correct both neurotransmitter deficits and changes in the biological clock.

SYMPTOMS

Symptoms of SAD include difficulty waking up in the morning, a tendency to oversleep, to overeat, and to crave carbohydrate-rich foods, often leading to weight gain. Other symptoms include a lack of energy, difficulty concentrating on completing tasks, and withdrawal from friends, family, and social activities. Individuals with SAD are characterized by depression, pessimism, and a lack of pleasure in usual activities. Symptoms of SAD can include heightened anxiety as well as depression. For most people with SAD, symptoms start in September or October and end in April or May  and tend to occur at the same time every year.

TREATMENT

There are several treatment options for classic SAD. Bright-light treatment uses a specially designed lamp (or light box) — with an intense “full spectrum” or blue light at doses of 2,500 to 10,000 lux. The patient sits at a prescribed distance, usually 30 to 60 cm, in front of the box with eyes open but not staring at the light source for 30 to 60 minutes. Many individuals use the light box in the morning, and there is evidence that morning light is superior to evening light  although people may respond to evening light as well. One study found that up to 69 percent of patients find the treatment inconvenient, and as many as 19 percent stop use because of this.

There is evidence that dawn simulation is effective as well. In some studies, this has been found to be 83 percent more effective than other bright-light therapies. Most studies have found light therapies to work well — for several weeks — as seasonal treatment until greater amounts of natural light are available.

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Animal Companionship

Posted on Posted in Brain Science, Continuing Education, Homestudy, Psychology

girl-1561943_640By Barbara Sternberg, Ph.D

Our pets occupy a special place in our lives and our hearts partly because they love us no matter who we are. Successful or not, rich or poor, young or old, our pets not only don’t care, but remain constant as our own human fortunes ebb and flow.

We see this constancy in the way our pets greet us after we return from an absence. A pet’s greeting is always exuberant, as if they are welcoming home a long-lost, beloved family member. The pet makes no demands on us (other than to return its greeting and maybe get scratched) and harbors no ill feelings over having been left behind. This happy homecoming replenishes us and helps us feel that life is safe, that everything is as we left it, and that we have not changed.

When humans face serious trials—illness, loss of a job, the disabilities of aging— affection from a pet becomes even more important. The pet’s continued affection shows us that the essence of the person has remained unchanged. For this reason, pets can be of enormous value in the treatment of depressed or chronically ill individuals, as well as the institutionalized elderly.

Playing with a pet—a game of catch, or friendly roughhousing, has a kind of constancy to it because pet play does not involve true competition. Even a game of tug-of-war is played in fun — for the pleasure of both participants. Typical pet games, once learned, stay constant, just as the animal does. Playing games with our pets is reassuring and provides a break from life’s burdens. One of the great pleasures of pets—whether we are playing with them or just watching them—is their appeal and their ability to make us smile and laugh. Laughter is therapeutic, and our pets are able to induce it with great regularity.

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The “Baby Blues”

Posted on Posted in Brain Science, Continuing Education, Homestudy, Psychology, Webinars

mother-589730_640 “Baby blues” is the term used to describe the mood swings that the majority of women—approximately 85 percent—experience during the first two weeks or so after giving birth. The baby blues are considered a normal biological reaction to childbirth and tend to resolve rather quickly.

Although Post-Partum Depression and baby blues share many of the same symptoms, they are not identical. With the baby blues, symptoms such as weepiness and anxiety come and go and are interspersed with periods of happiness and contentedness. In contrast, Post-Partum Depression is a far more serious condition that involves negative symptoms and unrelenting feelings. Post-Partum Depression is also much more debilitating; with the baby blues, the new mother is still able to take care of  herself, her new baby, and any other children.

Symptoms of the baby blues include irritability, rapid mood swings, tearfulness, and anxiety, usually beginning about two days after delivery. They tend to be mild and last about two weeks, roughly until the woman’s hormones return to normal levels. The baby blues resolve relatively quickly, and no medication or therapy is needed. However, if the “normal” baby blues symptoms last longer than three weeks, get worse instead of better, or more serious symptoms like intrusive thoughts arise, it is possible that what started as the baby blues may now be a case of Post-Partum Depression.

Neuropsychiatrist Louann Brizendine points out that a negative aspect of breast feeding can be a lack of mental focus, or a feeling of being fuzzy and absentminded. The parts of the brain responsible for focus and concentration are preoccupied with protecting and tracking the newborn for the first six months or so after birth. Lack of sleep contributes to the mental fog, and a woman’s brain does not return to normal until six months post-partum.

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Treating Drug Overdose

Posted on Posted in Brain Science, Continuing Education, Homestudy, Seminars, Webinars

52118By Barbara Sternberg, Ph.D.

Overdose (OD) occurs when a toxic amount of a drug or combination of drugs overwhelms the body. Many substances can be involved in overdosing, including alcohol, opioids, and a combination of drugs. Mixing heroin, prescription opioids (such as morphine, Vicodin®, Percoset®, etc.) and other downers such as alcohol and benzodiazepines (e.g. Xanax®, Klonopin®, Valium®, Ativan®, etc.) is particularly dangerous because they all affect the body’s central nervous system.  The nervous system slows breathing, affects blood pressure, and slows heart rate — in turn, reducing body temperature. Stimulant drugs like speed, cocaine, and ecstasy raise heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature and speed up breathing. The result can be seizure, stroke, overheating, or heart attack. “Overamping” is the term that is now being used to describe an overdose of speed.

Opioid overdose occurs when the level of opioids, or combination of opioids and other drugs in the body cause a person to become unresponsive to stimulation  or cause his or her breathing to become inadequate. This happens because opioids fit into the same brain receptors that signal the body to breathe. In that case, oxygen levels in the blood decrease, and the lips and fingers turn blue (cyanosis). Oxygen starvation will eventually stop vital organs like the heart and then the brain and can lead to unconsciousness, coma, and possibly death.

In the case of opioid overdose, survival or death depends completely on maintaining the ability to breathe and on sustaining oxygen levels. Fortunately, the overdose process takes place over time, with most people stopping their breathing gradually — minutes to hours after the drug or drugs were ingested. In most situations, there is time to intervene between the beginning of an overdose and before a victim dies. Even if an overdose takes place immediately after drug ingestion, proper response can reverse the overdose and keep the person breathing and alive.


Naloxone

Also known by the brand name Narcan®, naloxone is an opioid antagonist used to counter the effects of opioid overdose, specifically, to counteract the life-threatening depression of the central nervous system and respiratory system, making it possible for an overdose victim to breathe normally. Naloxone is not a controlled substance, and it is only effective as an antidote to opioid overdose. Naloxone has a stronger affinity for the opioid receptors than many opioids, so it is capable of knocking the opioids off the receptors for a short time, allowing the person to breathe again and reverse the overdose. Traditionally administered by emergency response personnel, naloxone can be administered by minimally trained laypeople. Naloxone is administered via injection  or nasal spray.

Many people who have died from opioid overdose have failed to receive proper medical attention because a person who was with them delayed or did not call 911 for fear of police involvement. While not all opioid overdoses are fatal, the administration of naloxone by laypeople to an overdosing person saves hundreds of lives each year. Timely provision of naloxone may also help reduce some of the morbidities associated with non-fatal overdose, such as brain damage and other dangers.

In most jurisdictions, naloxone is only used in hospital settings or by emergency medical personnel.  Naloxone can be made available to people experiencing an overdose if and when emergency medical services are accessed. Recently, take-home naloxone programs are being established in communities throughout the United States. These programs expand naloxone access to drug users and their loved ones by providing training on overdose prevention, recognition, and response.

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Emotions, Mood & Mood Swings

Posted on Posted in Brain Science, Continuing Education, Homestudy, Psychology, Seminars, Webinars

girl-1149933_640The word “emotion” comes from the Latin word emovere (to move), suggesting an action or state opposite to being still or calm. Human emotions have been studied since the days of Charles Darwin, who described about a dozen separate emotions and argued that the expression of many of them served adaptive evolutionary functions. Emotions have only recently become a subject of serious inquiry in the field of psychology.

Emotion is related to goals; it stems from situations that enhance or threaten the likelihood of attaining a goal. If a person perceives a threat to attaining a goal, a negative emotion results, and if a person makes significant progress towards reaching a goal, the result is a positive emotion. Emotions, whether fear, pleasure, or love, are mostly transient in nature—a fluctuating response to our thoughts about our surroundings.

Although experiencing emotions is both natural and invaluable, emotions can also become intense and unremitting. When emotions persist and are not tied to a particular stimulus, they are called moods. Moods tend to last longer than specific emotions and set the emotional tone for what we think, feel, and do. Moods are less

Mood swings are shifts in moods that can occur over a period of time, either in the course of a day, or over many months. Most of us experience subtle changes in mood based on small things that happen during the day, and often we’re not even aware of these changes.

Extreme and persistent mood states can result in mental disorders such as depression and anxiety. Depressed people feel unrelenting sadness and an inability to derive pleasure from positive situations. Extreme mood swings can be a hallmark of bipolar disorder, with mood swings occurring as frequently as several times a day or alternating over the course of months, from depression to a euphoric or irritable mania that may or may not be pleasurable.

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Childhood Nightmares

Posted on Posted in Brain Science, Continuing Education, Psychology, Seminars, Webinars

fantasy-1152677_640Sleep disorders occur in 35 to 45 percent of children ages 2 to 18 years,  with peak incidence in children ages 3 to 6 years.

Nightmares occur sporadically in many children and are frightening events for the entire family. Nightmare disorder is characterized by repeated episodes of a frightening or unpleasant dream that disrupts the child’s sleep. The child’s reaction often interrupts the parents’ sleep as well. On awakening from a nightmare, a child is alert and aware of the present surroundings, but the sleep disturbance causes distress and impairment in everyday functioning.

Nightmares are often confused with the parasomnia known as night terrors, which, as noted earlier, are episodes of extreme panic and confusion associated with vocalization, movement, and autonomic discharge. Children with night terrors are difficult to arouse and console and do not remember a dream or nightmare.

Other considerations include:

  • Nightmares are not associated with specific physical findings.
  • Heart rate and respiratory rate may increase or show increased variability before the child awakens from a nightmare. Mild autonomic arousal, including tachycardia, tachypnea, and sweating, may occur transiently upon awakening.
  • Approximately seven percent of individuals who have frequent nightmares have a family history of nightmares.
  • Nightmares are more common in children with mental retardation, depression, and CNS (central nervous system). An association also has been reported with febrile illnesses.
  • Medications may induce frightening dreams, either during treatment or following withdrawal. Withdrawal of medications that suppress REM (rapid eye movement) sleep can lead to an REM rebound effect that is accompanied by nightmares.
  • Nightmares may result from a severe traumatic event and may indicate post-traumatic stress disorder.

Management of nightmares is based on reassurance. Although all stressors cannot be removed from a child’s life, parents can attempt to make bedtime a safe and comfortable time. Parents should be encouraged to spend time in the evening reading, relaxing, and talking with the child.

If the child has a recurring nightmare, it may help to have parents encourage the child to imagine a good ending. Psychological evaluation is indicated when nightmares occur more than twice a week over several months. Medications are neither helpful nor indicated.

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Cuisine for the Brain

Posted on Posted in Brain Science, Continuing Education, Homestudy, Nutrition

carrot-1085063_640By Laura Pawlak, PhD, RD emeritus

What weighs a mere four pounds and has a workload that demands 20 percent of all the oxygen inhaled?  Answer:  the human brain.

As technology opens the door to the unique metabolic functions of the brain, scientists are investigating the nutrients required to keep mentally sharp over the decades.

With dementia rising at an alarming rate — along with obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and other ailments — let’s eat with purpose, using sound, nutrition-related science applicable to the brain and the rest of the body.

Starting with the belief that what we eat plays a significant role in determining who gets dementia, Martha Clare Morris, Ph.D. and colleagues developed the MIND Diet as an intervention against the most common cause of neurodegeneration:  Alzheimer’s disease.

The work of Morris and her colleagues is based on research completed at Rush Medical University in Chicago, Illinois.  The term “MIND” is an acronym for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay.

The DASH diet plan is based on research sponsored by the U.S. National Institutes of Health.  The plan was developed to lower blood pressure without the use of medication.

The Mediterranean and DASH diets are models of healthy eating for the body.  The Morris team chose foods that improve brain function significantly and also added to overall body wellness.

Adherence to the MIND diet may lower the risk of Alzheimer’s disease by as much as 53%, offering more protection for the brain than any other dietary regimen.

The MIND cuisine lists 10 brain-healthy food groups (green leafy vegetables, other vegetables, nuts, berries, beans, whole grains, fish, poultry, olive oil, and wine).  The plan limits consumption of five brain-unhealthy food groups (red meats, butter/stick margarine, cheese, pastries/sweets, and fried or fast food).

The plan suggests a minimum of three servings of whole grains, a salad, and one other vegetable every day — along with a glass of wine.  For snacks, add a variety of nuts.  Berries are the only fruits recommended.

Specifically, blueberries are noted as the powerful protectors of the brain.  Strawberries are a second choice for good cognitive function.

Use Google and enter the term “MIND Diet” for daily guidelines and recipes of a cuisine designed to maximize brain function while providing healthy foods for the rest of the body as well.


Dr. Laura Pawlak (Ph.D., R.D. emerita) is a world-renown biochemist and dietitian emerita.  She is the author of many scientific publications and has written such best-selling books as “The Hungry Brain,” “Life Without Diets,” and “Stop Gaining Weight.”  On the subjects of nutrition and brain science, she gives talks internationally.


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Alzheimer’s Disease

Posted on Posted in Brain Science, Continuing Education, Elder Care, Seminars

constant-63613_640By Dr. Mary O’Brien, MD

Alzheimer’s disease is one of the most dreaded health conditions of our time. There is no cure, and current treatments don’t slow down the disease; they can only alleviate symptoms. As well as avoiding Alzheimer’s disease and age-related cognitive decline, many people want to stay as sharp as possible as they age, and, if possible, delay age-related cognitive decline. Yet are there truly preventive strategies to stave off of Alzheimer’s disease or cognitive problems associated with aging?

While there’s no definitive evidence about what can prevent or reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, scientific studies have offered clues about strategies that might slow down or prevent cognitive decline. The good news is that research on the prevention and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease—which currently affect about 5.3 million Americans—is now a high priority.

In late 2015, the U.S. Congress approved the largest increase to date in federal spending for Alzheimer’s disease research and care-giver support in the 2016 federal budget—a $350 million increase over 2015. The increase in federal spending came in response to reports and studies documenting the needs and opportunities that lie ahead for Alzheimer’s disease research. By 2050, Medicare spending on Alzheimer’s disease is expected to quadruple to $589 billion annually, but one treatment delaying the onset of the disease could save Medicare $345 billion in the first 10 years of its use, according to a report from the Alzheimer’s Association.

Over the past 30 years, many advances have been made in understanding Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. We now understand the biology of Alzheimer’s disease as never before. The brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease are filled with amyloid plaques—composed of deposits of a toxic protein fragment called beta-amyloid. The brains of Alzheimer’s disease patients also have an abundance of neurofibrillary tangles or abnormal collections of twisted protein threads found inside nerve cells, composed chiefly of a protein called tau.  In Alzheimer’s disease, the amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles damage the brain’s neurons, interfering with their ability to function and communicate with one another. As a result, Alzheimer’s disease causes the brain to shrink and atrophy.

Scientists are now emphasizing research on the development of Alzheimer’s disease and on the symptoms and signs of early Alzheimer’s disease, which is termed mild cognitive impairment. The hope is that learning more about mild cognitive impairment can help identify patients at increased risk for the disease and for disease progression.

The symptoms of mild Alzheimer’s disease include:

  • Memory loss and confusion about once familiar things or places.
  • Difficulty accomplishing daily tasks, especially handling money and paying bills.
  • Poor judgment that leads to bad decisions.
  • Mood and personality changes, such as increased anxiety and aggression.

The symptoms of moderate Alzheimer’s are more serious, and include:

  • Increasing memory loss and confusion, and shortened attention span.
  • Irritability and Inappropriate outbursts of anger.
  • Difficulty with language (in reading and writing) and difficulty in working with numbers.
  • Trouble recognizing friends and family members.
  • Difficulty organizing, planning, and thinking logically.
  • Restlessness, agitation, anxiety, tearfulness, and wandering.
  • Repetitive movements and statements and sometimes muscle twitches.
  • Paranoia, delusions, and hallucinations.
  • Loss of control over impulses.

Age and genetics are the strongest risk factors for dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. However, other risk factors have been linked to Alzheimer’s disease. Research has shown that people with heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure may be more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease and to have more severe diseases.  Studies also show that patients with metabolic syndrome, Type 2 diabetes, and sleep apnea are at increased risk for mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease. Whether or not successful treatment of hypertension, heart disease, diabetes and sleep apnea can affect cognitive decline is open to question, but is under study. One large trial funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has compared intensive glucose-lowering treatment with standard treatment for Type 2 diabetes, but there were no significant differences between the two groups.

Hormones such as estrogen and progesterone also have effects on the brain. Yet studies on whether menopausal hormone therapy is protective against cognitive decline or Alzheimer’s disease have been conflicting.  Research is continuing on estrogen and progesterone as well as other hormonal therapies that could be preventive, including testosterone, growth hormone-releasing hormone and DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone).

Many studies have also investigated whether vitamins and dietary supplements can protect against cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease. Epidemiological and laboratory studies have suggested that antioxidants from food and supplements can lower the risk of Alzheimer’s disease by preventing oxidative damage from free radicals. Vitamin E, vitamin C, B vitamins, and coenzyme Q10 have been tested as treatments to slow down or prevent Alzheimer’s disease, but none have proved effective. Researchers are also investigating the effect of resveratrol—a compound found in red grapes and red wine.

Research has also revealed that healthy habits can have an important influence on the risk for Alzheimer’s disease and cognitive decline. Studies show that exercise can stimulate the brain and help to make new neuronal connections within the brain that are vital to healthy cognition. Daily aerobic exercise, for instance, can enhance recall and executive function. Research has also found that a diet rich in vegetables is associated with a reduced risk for cognitive decline, and a Mediterranean diet significantly lowers the risk for mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease.

Keeping your mind active throughout life may also reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Large observational and epidemiological studies have associated cognitive health with the maintenance of social relationships at work, volunteering or by living with someone. Mentally stimulating activities such as reading books and magazines, playing game and going to lectures may also keep the mind sharp. Recent large studies have found that people who spend a lot of time in intellectually stimulating activities are significantly less likely to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

For healthy people, formal cognitive training sessions also seems to have benefits for the brain. Studies on memory, reasoning, and processing speed training—all aimed at improving mental skills—show that this training can improve cognitive skills for up to 10 years. Other studies are now investigating whether the combination of exercise and cognitive training can delay or prevent age-related cognitive problems.

  1. National Institute on Aging. Alzheimer’s Disease: Unraveling the mystery. nia.nih.gov/
  2. National Institute on Aging. Alzheimer’s Disease Progress Report: Intensifying the Research Effort. nia.nih.gov
  3. Preventing Alzheimer’s Disease: What Do We Know? nia.nih.gov
  4. Alzheimer’s Association. Historic Alzheimer’s funding increase signed into law, answering Alzheimer’s Association call for action. alz.org

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