Experts Reveal Keys to Brain Health

By Kleyman, Paul | Aging Today, March/April 2007 | Go to article overview

Experts Reveal Keys to Brain Health


Kleyman, Paul, Aging Today


2007 ASA-NCOA Joint Conference

Note to readers: This issue o/Aging Today is being released later than scheduled in order to bring you initial coverage of the 2007 Joint Conference of the American Society on Aging and National Council on Aging, held in Chicago, March 7-10. More extensive coverage will appear in subsequent issues.

A daily glass of wine, plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables and a brisk halfhour walk to a creative arts workshop are among the key ingredients for maintaining a healthy brain-and possibly fending off the effects of Alzheimer's, heart disease and diabetes-according to a panel of leading researchers who spoke at the recent 2007 Joint Conference of the American Society on Aging and National Council on Aging in Chicago.

"The evidence that a moderate amount of alcohol is good for your health is overwhelming," stated Franchie Grodstein, an associate professor of epidemiology at Harvard Medical School, Cambridge, Mass., during the closing general session titled "Staying Sharp: Current Advances in Brain Research." Noting that "the same thing is true for exercise," Grodstein addressed cutting-edge findings about the aging brain along with molecular biologist Robert Vassar of Northwestern University's Center for Geriatric Medicine in Chicago and Gene D. Cohen, director of George Washington University's Center on Aging, Health and Humanities, Washington, D.C.

PREVENTING MEMORY IMPAIRMENT

Calling it a myth that only red wine is beneficial, Grodstein said that in numerous studies, moderate amounts of any alcohol-one-half to one glass of wine daily for women, one to two glasses for men, or an ounce of distilled spiritshave shown benefits for brain health, cardiovascular functioning and even diabetes type 2. Grodstein cautioned, though, that research is also demonstrating that more than moderate intake of liquor can be quite damaging to health. Also, she encouraged older adults to check with their physicians about possible adverse interactions of alcohol with drugs they are taking or other potential problems to their health.

Grodstein, who is affiliated with Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, focuses her research on "how we can change our lifestyle to prevent memory impairment from happening." In particular, she is studying cognitive functioning among the 20,000 women, ages 70 and older, who are participating in the Nurse's Health Study. She also leads studies involving randomized clinical trials of vitamin supplements and aspirin. To date, she said, little evidence shows that vitamin supplements enhance brain functioning. She recommended, "Getting your vitamins from eating the right foods is a much better way of staying healthy," especially in the form of fresh fruits and vegetables.

Generally, Grodstein said, research shows that "the kinds of things that keep your body healthy are probably going to keep your brain healthy as well." For example, she continued, "We have found that people who exercise regularly lose their memory at a much slower rate than people who don't." She emphasized, "We're not suggesting that people in their 705 start training for the marathon" and explained that people who walk regularly, approximately five days a week for about a half hour or so each time, yield some mental benefits. Walking at a brisk pace-but not at a casual stroll-is as beneficial for older people as more vigorous aerobics or similar exercises, she said.

ALZHEIMER'S AND AEROBICS

"What's good for your heart is also good for your brain," declared molecular biologist Robert Vassar of Northwestern University's Center for Geriatric Medicine. For instance, he said, "Many of the risk factors for Alzheimer's disease are the same ones for cardiovascular disease. Usually the cardiovascular disease precedes Alzheimer's disease by maybe a decade."

In part, Vassar said, his research is exploring apparent connections between the aging cardiovascular system and blood supply to the brain-in particular, the delivery of oxygen and energy supply to that complex, three-pound organ and whether impeded flow could be a trigger for Alzheimer's disease. …

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