The Simple Sign That Your Brain Is Healthy

Two straightforward indicators of a healthy brain.

Two straightforward indicators of a healthy brain.

People who have a stronger hand grip have healthier brains, research finds.

In both young and old, stronger hand grip is linked to a healthier brain.

People with a stronger grip are less likely to develop brain-related diseases, such as dementia and stroke.

Another sign of good brain health is the ability to walk 100 metres in good time.

People who walk faster have better memories and larger brains.

They also perform better on tests of language and decision-making.

For the study, 2,410 people were given tests of grip strength, walking speed and cognitive function.

Scans examined the health and size of their brains.

They were followed up over more than a decade, during which time 70 people had had a stroke and 34 developed dementia.

Having a stronger hand grip was linked to a 42 percent lower risk of stroke.

Covering 100 metres in good time was associated with a 150 percent reduction in dementia risk.

Dr Erica C. Camargo, the study’s first author, said:

“These are basic office tests which can provide insight into risk of dementia and stroke and can be easily performed by a neurologist or general practitioner.

Further research is needed to understand why this is happening and whether preclinical disease could cause slow walking and decreased strength.”

Other studies have shown that people with greater grip strength have faster reaction times, are better at solving logical puzzles and have improved memories.

The research suggests that weight training may be a way to improve brain health.

It is known that aerobic training improves brain health, but the effect of weight training on the brain has not been fully investigated.

Lifting weights and strength training, though, can help to reduce depression.

Strength training can substantially improve people’s symptoms even for those with moderate depression and those who do not train that often.

Strength training, including weight-lifting, is particularly effective for people who have more severe depression symptoms.

The study was published in the journal Neurology (Camargo et al., 2015).

The Simple Sign That Your Brain Is Shrinking

The sign that you have less gray matter in your brain.

The sign that you have less gray matter in your brain.

People who carry extra body fat around their bellies have smaller brains, new research concludes.

The study of almost 10,000 people found that those who have higher body-mass indexes and larger waists have less gray matter.

Brain shrinkage is linked to a higher risk of dementia and memory problems.

The study suggests that people with a healthier weight likely have more gray matter and, therefore, healthier brains.

Dr Mark Hamer, the study’s first author, said:

“Existing research has linked brain shrinkage to memory decline and a higher risk of dementia, but research on whether extra body fat is protective or detrimental to brain size has been inconclusive.

Our research looked at a large group of people and found obesity, specifically around the middle, may be linked with brain shrinkage.”

The study included 9,652 people, of whom 19% were obese.

They were given brain scans and their body fat was assessed.

The results showed that those with more body fat had less ‘gray matter’ in their brains.

Gray matter refers to brain cells, along with their accompanying structures: the part of the brain that processes information.

Dr Hamer said:

“While our study found obesity, especially around the middle, was associated with lower gray matter brain volumes, it’s unclear if abnormalities in brain structure lead to obesity or if obesity leads to these changes in the brain.

We also found links between obesity and shrinkage in specific regions of the brain.

This will need further research but it may be possible that someday regularly measuring BMI and waist-to-hip ratio may help determine brain health.”

People with BMIs over 30 are considered obese (search online for a BMI calculator).

Men with waist-to-hip ratios of 0.9 or greater are considered centrally obese.

The figure for women is 0.85.

The study was published in the journal Neurology (Hamer & Batty et al., 2019).

The Surprising Diet Linked To Staying Mentally Fit

The diet could reduce the risk of dementia and related neurodegenerative diseases.

The diet could reduce the risk of dementia and related neurodegenerative diseases.

A low-protein, high-carbohydrate diet is linked to staying mentally fit, new research suggests.

Mice given this unrestricted diet showed improvements in memory and learning as well as overall brain health.

Restricted diets have long shown promise in human longevity, but they are difficult for people to maintain.

This is one of the first studies to show that a low-protein, high-carbohydrate diet could be beneficial.

Mr Devin Wahl, the study’s lead author, said:

“We have close to 100 years of quality research extolling the benefits of calorie restriction as the most powerful diet to improve brain health and delay the onset of neurodegenerative disease in rodents.

However, the majority of people have a hard time restricting calories, especially in Western societies where food is so freely available.

It shows a lot of promise that we have been able to replicate the same kind of gene changes in the part of the brain responsible for memory that we also see when we severely restrict calories.”

Low protein, high-carbohydrate diets are not new.

They have been practiced for many centuries around the world.

Professor David Le Couteur, study co-author, said:

“The traditional diet of Okinawa is around nine percent protein, which is similar to our study, with sources including lean fish, soy and plants, with very little beef.

Interestingly, one of their main sources of carbohydrate is sweet potato.”

For the study, mice were fed complex carbs such as those found in cheese and milk.

The results showed that the diet was beneficial to the hippocampus, a structure in the brain critical for learning and memory.

Professor Le Couteur said:

“The hippocampus is usually the first part of the brain to deteriorate with neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.

However, the low-protein high-carbohydrate diet appeared to promote hippocampus health and biology in the mice, on some measures to an even greater degree than those on the low-calorie diet.”

The study was published in the journal Cell Reports (Wahl et al., 2018).

The Mental Disorders That Accelerate Brain Damage

Largest ever study of its type reveals the disorders that accelerate brain aging.

Largest ever study of its type reveals the disorders that accelerate brain aging.

Schizophrenia, cannabis abuse and bipolar disorder accelerate brain aging the most, new research finds.

Schizophrenia ages the brain by an average of 4 years, cannabis abuse by 2.8 years and bipolar disorder by 1.6 years.

Fifth on the list, behind ADHD, was alcohol abuse, which ages the brain by an average of 1.4 years.

Depression and anxiety, however, were not linked to any premature brain aging.

Dr Daniel G. Amen, who led the study, said:

“Based on one of the largest brain imaging studies ever done, we can now track common disorders and behaviors that prematurely age the brain.

Better treatment of these disorders can slow or even halt the process of brain aging.

The cannabis abuse finding was especially important, as our culture is starting to see marijuana as an innocuous substance.

This study should give us pause about it.”

The conclusions come from the largest ever study of its type of 62,454 brain scans on over 30,000 people.

The SPECT (single photon emission computed tomography) brain scans measured the regional blood flow in the brain and how it is reduced in different disorders.

Dr George Perry, commenting on the study, said:

“This is one of the first population-based imaging studies, and these large studies are essential to answer how to maintain brain structure and function during aging.

The effect of modifiable and non-modifiable factors of brain aging will further guide advice to maintain cognitive function.”

Mr Sachit Egan, co-investigator from Google, said:

“This paper represents an important step forward in our understanding of how the brain operates throughout the lifespan.

The results indicate that we can predict an individual’s age based on patterns of cerebral blood flow.

Additionally, groundwork has been laid to further explore how common psychiatric disorders can influence healthy patterns of cerebral blood flow.”

The study was published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease (Amen et al., 2018; image credit, Dr Daniel G. Amen).

The Warning Sign Of An Unhealthy Brain

Almost two-thirds of people in the US have this sign of an unhealthy brain.

Almost two-thirds of people in the US have this sign of an unhealthy brain.

Too much belly fat is a warning sign of an unhealthy brain, new research from over 5,000 people concludes.

The more belly fat people had, the worse their brain function was, as measured by tests of memory, language and their general mental faculties.

Belly fat is assessed by measuring the waist and the hips and then dividing one by the other to get a ratio.

Belly fat may be particularly bad for the brain due to increased secretion of inflammatory markers.

Inflammatory proteins — too many of which are bad for the body — frequently increase before people get dementia.

The study was carried out in Ireland where half the population over 50 is centrally obese.

Less than one-quarter of older people have a BMI (body mass index) in the normal range.

In the US, around 57% of people are centrally obese — having a waist larger than 40 inches.

Dr Conal Cunningham, who led the study, said:

“While we have known for some time that obesity is associated with negative health consequences our study adds to emerging evidence suggesting that obesity and where we deposit our excess weight could influence our brain health.

This has significant public health implications.”

The conclusions come from 5,186 people over 60 who were given tests of their cognitive function.

The research suggests that belly fat is a better index of cognitive health than BMI.

Although this study was carried out in older people, other research has suggested a link between obesity and cognitive decline.

The study’s authors write:

“In adults aged 19–65 years, cross-sectional studies suggest that the overweight perform worse on tests of semantic memory, visuospatial ability and executive function compared with normal-weight participants.

Prospective studies have observed lower cognitive scores and greater cognitive decline in obese v. normal-weight participants, with fastest decline in those with both obesity and metabolic abnormality.”

The study was published in the British Journal of Nutrition (Ntlholang et al., 2018).