Young Adults With Type 1 Diabetes Show Abnormal Brain Activity

Having diabetes may affect the way our brains work. Research is taking place to find out exactly how this occurs.

In a recent study, researchers describe how tying diabetes to cognitive impairment is tricky because many people with diabetes have other conditions like high blood pressure and obesity, which also affect cognition. That’s why they conducted a study in young adults with and without type 1 diabetes “who were virtually free of such comorbidities,” the study authors wrote in their abstract.

brain activity

Christine Embury is a graduate research assistant at the Center for Magnetoencephalography (MEG) at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. She worked with Dr. Wilson, the study’s lead author and was kind enough to answer some questions.

In layman terms, she explains that “neural processing” is brain activity. “In our work, we relate brain activity in specific brain regions to task-specific cognitive processes, like working memory. Widespread brain networks are involved in this kind of complex processing including regions relating to verbal processing and attention, working together to accomplish task goals,” she writes.

Young, Healthy Type 1 Adults Tested

They matched two groups, one with and one without type 1 diabetes, on major health and demographic factors and had them all do a verbal working memory task during magnetoencephalographic (MEG) brain imaging. For the group with type 1 diabetes, the mean years of diabetes duration were only 12.4.

The researchers hypothesized that those with type 1 diabetes would have “altered neural dynamics in verbal working memory processing and that these differences would directly relate to clinical disease measures,” they wrote.

Higher A1c and Diabetes Duration May Alter Brain Activity

They found that those with type 1 diabetes had much stronger neural responses in the superior parietal cortices during memory encoding and much weaker activity in the parietal-occipital regions during maintenance compared to those without type 1 diabetes.

Diabetes duration and glycemic control were both “significantly correlated with neural responses in various brain regions,”

Embury explained that their findings suggest that “the longer one has the condition, the more the brain has to work to compensate for deficits incurred.” Higher A1c levels were also associated with compensatory brain activity, too.

The harrowing conclusion from the study authors is that even young, healthy adults with type 1 diabetes “already have aberrant neural processing relative to their non-diabetic peers, employing compensatory responses to perform the task, and glucose management and duration may play a central role.”

What would be the findings among type 1s who keep their A1c in non-diabetic range, one might wonder? This study suggests it is likely that elevated blood sugar over time is what changes the brain activity. These effects are possibly compounded over time in those with comorbidities like obesity and high blood pressure.

What is Verbal Working Memory?

According to this study, verbal working memory processing may be affected by type 1 diabetes. Embury shared an example of this and wrote, “Participants had to memorize a grid of letters and were later asked to identify if a probe letter was in the previous set of letters shown.” She said we have to use working memory any time that we’re trying to hold on to or manipulate a piece of information for a short amount of time, like remembering a person’s phone number.

The verbal part of “verbal working memory processing” just has to do with the way that the information is presented, like letters or numbers and “anything that requires language processing as well” Embury explains.

More research will help clarify these findings in the future.

How Exercise Improves Your Memory and Cognition

Many studies have confirmed that exercise helps prevent cognitive decline and staves off dementia. According to research published in the journal Neurology, moderate to intense exercise can slow brain aging by as much as 10 years!1,2,3 But what is it about moving your body that helps you maintain sharp brain function?

Researchers have discovered a number of different mechanisms behind this body-brain link. One, perhaps key, factor is how exercise affects brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which is found in both your muscles and your brain.

Story at-a-glance

  • Research suggests moderate to intense exercise can slow brain aging by as much as 10 years, and a number of different mechanisms help explain this intriguing muscle-brain link
  • Exercise triggers production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which rejuvenates both muscles and brain. In your brain, BDNF preserves brain cells, converts stem cells into neurons and promotes brain growth
  • Research shows exercising four hours after learning something new helps you retain what you’ve just learned long-term. The effect may be related to catecholamines; chemicals known to improve memory consolidation

Exercise Preserves and Grows Brain Matter

Exercise initially stimulates the production of a protein called FNDC5. This protein in turn triggers the production of BDNF, which is a remarkable rejuvenator in several respects. In your brain, BDNF:

  • Preserves existing brain cells4
  • Activates brain stem cells to convert into new neurons
  • Promotes brain growth, especially in the hippocampus area; a region associated with memory

In one study, exercising mice grew an average of 6,000 new brain cells in every cubic millimeter of hippocampal tissue sampled,5 and in another,6 seniors who walked 30 to 45 minutes, three days per week for one year, increased the volume of their hippocampus by 2 percent.

Typically, your hippocampus tends to shrink with age. The results prompted the authors to claim exercise is “one of the most promising non-pharmaceutical treatments to improve brain health.”

Exercise also helps preserve gray and white matter in your frontal, temporal and parietal cortexes, which also helps prevent cognitive deterioration.7,8 But there’s even more to this puzzle.

Exercise, Glucose Depletion and Brain Health

Your brain can use both glucose and fat for fuel, but the latter is preferred. When glucose is depleted from exercise, your hippocampus switches over to use fat as a source of energy, and it is this fuel switchover that triggers the release of BDNF and subsequent cognitive improvement.

This may also help explain why intermittent fasting and a high-fat, low-net carb diet have been shown to produce similar benefits for cognition and brain health as exercise.

Yet another mechanism at play here relates to a substance called β-hydroxybutyrate, which your liver produces when your metabolism is optimized to burn fat as fuel.9

When your blood sugar level declines, β-hydroxybutyrate serves as an alternative source of energy. However, β-hydroxybutyrate also blocks histone enzymes that inhibit the production of BDNF. So it seems your body is designed to improve BDNF production via a number of different pathways in response to physical exercise.

As mentioned, BDNF also expresses itself in your neuromuscular system. Here, it protects your neuromotor — which is the most critical element in your muscle — from degradation. Without the neuromotor, your muscle is like an engine without ignition.

Neuromotor degradation is part of the process that explains age-related muscle atrophy. So BDNF is actively involved in both your muscles and your brain, and this cross-connection helps explain why a physical workout can have such a beneficial impact on both muscle and brain tissue.

It, quite literally, helps prevent and even reverse brain decay as much as it prevents and reverses age-related muscle decay. Physical exercise also affects a number ofother chemicals associated with brain health.

Exercising 4 Hours Post-Learning Boosts Long-Term Memory Retention

Recent research shows that exercising four hours after learning something new helps you retain what you’ve just learned long-term. The same effect was not found when the exercise was done immediately after learning.10,11

Why this four-hour delay boosted memory retention is still unclear, but it appears to have something to do with the release of catecholamines, naturally occurring chemicals in your body known to improve memory consolidation.

These include dopamine and norepinephrine. One way to boost these catecholamines is through exercise, and apparently delayed exercise is part of the equation.

Memory Retention

Source: Current Biology, Physical Exercise Performed Four Hours after Learning Improves Memory Retention and Increases Hippocampal Pattern Similarity during Retrieval, van Dongen

Other Mechanisms by Which Exercise Boosts Brain Health

The connections between your physical fitness and your brain health run deep. Other mechanisms by which exercise protects and boosts your brain health include the following:

Normalizing insulin resistance

Exercise is one of the most effective ways to normalize your insulin level and lower your risk of insulin resistance. In addition to lowering your risk for diabetes, this also helps protect your cognitive health, as diabetes is linked to a 65 percent increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s.12

In addition to regulating your blood sugar level, insulin actually plays a role in brain signaling as well. When researchers disrupted the proper signaling of insulin in the brain, it resulted in dementia.13

Improving and increasing blood flow to your brain

Your brain needs a significant supply of oxygen to function properly, which helps explain why what is good for your heart andcardiovascular system is also good for your brain. The increased blood flow that results from exercise allows your brain to almost immediately function better. As a result, you tend to feel more focused after a workout, which can improve your productivity at work and at home.

Reducing plaque formation

By altering the way damaging proteins reside inside your brain, exercise may help slow the development of Alzheimer’s disease. In one animal study, significantly fewer damaging plaques and fewer bits of beta-amyloid peptides, associated with Alzheimer’s, were found in mice that exercised.14

Decreasing Bone morphogenetic protein (BMP)

BMP slows down the creation of new neurons, thereby reducing neurogenesis. If you have high levels of BMP, your brain grows slower and less nimble. Exercise reduces the impact of BMP, so that your adult stem cells can continue performing their vital functions of keeping your brain agile. In animal research, mice with access to running wheels reduced the BMP in their brains by half in just one week.15,16

Boosting Noggin

Exercise also results in a notable increase in another brain protein called Noggin, which acts as a BMP antagonist. So exercise not only reduces the detrimental effects of BMP, it simultaneously boosts the more beneficial Noggin as well. This complex interplay between BMP and Noggin appears to be a powerful factor that helps ensure the proliferation and youthfulness of your neurons.

Lowering inflammation

Exercise lowers your levels of inflammatory cytokines associated with chronic inflammation and obesity, both of which can adversely impact your brain function.17

Boosting neurotransmitters associated with mind and mood

Exercise also boosts natural “feel good” hormones and neurotransmitters associated with mood control, including endorphins, serotonin, dopamine, glutamate and GABA.

A study by Princeton University researchers revealed that exercising creates new, excitable neurons along with new neurons designed to release the GABA neurotransmitter, which inhibits excessive neuronal firing, helping to induce a natural state of calm.18 The mood-boosting benefits of exercise occur both immediately after a workout and continue on in the long term.

Metabolizing stress chemicals

Researchers have also teased out the mechanism by which exercise helps reduce stress and related depression — both of which are risk factors for dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Well-trained muscles have higher levels of an enzyme that helps metabolize a stress chemical called kynurenine. The finding suggests that exercising your muscles helps rid your body of harmful stress chemicals.19

Age-Related Cognitive Decline Is Not a Given

Ideally, you’d want to make exercise a regular part of your life from as early on as possible. But it’s never too late to start. Even seniors who take up a fitness regimen can improve their cognitive function. For example, a team at the University of Edinburgh followed more than 600 people, starting at age 70, who kept detailed logs of their daily physical, mental and social habits.

Three years later, their brains were imaged for age-related changes, such as brain shrinkage and damage to the white matter, which is considered the “wiring” of your brain’s communication system. Not surprisingly, seniors who engaged in the most physical exercise showed the least amount of brain shrinkage.20

Strength training — and working your leg muscles in particular21,22,23,24 — appears to have a particularly strong impact on brain function and memory. In one study, just 20 minutes of leg strength exercises enhanced long-term memory by 10 percent.

Having an active lifestyle is really an investment in your future well-being, both physically and mentally. I believe that overall, high-intensity interval training really helps maximize the health benefits of exercise, while simultaneously being the most efficient and therefore requiring the least amount of time. That said, a varied and well-rounded fitness program that incorporates a wide variety of exercises is your best bet.

I also strongly recommend avoiding sitting as much as possible and walking more every day. A fitness tracker can be very helpful for this. I suggest aiming for 7,000 to 10,000 steps per day, in addition to your regular fitness regimen, not in lieu of it.

The science is really clear on this point: you do not have to lose your mind with advancing age. Your brain has the capacity to regenerate and grow throughout your life, and exercise is a really potent strategy that can help ensure your brain continuously rejuvenates with each passing year.

Anticholinergic Meds and Cognition

A longitudinal study published last month in JAMA Neurology collected neuroimaging and cognitive testing results of 451 cognitively intact adults at specific intervals over 32.1 months (range 6–108 months).1 The mean age of study participants was 73.3 years, and 60 participants had been taking medium- or high-potency anticholinergic medications for a minimum of 1 month. Over the follow-up period, the group exposed to anticholinergic medications had worse outcomes on Wechsler Memory Scale, Trail Making Test Part B, and lower glucose metabolism on PET. MRI showed reduction of brain volume overall and in the hippocampus, along with enlargement of ventricles.

Alzheimer’s disease is considered to be a deficit of acetylcholine (ACh), and most medications for the treatment enhance ACh in the brain by inhibiting the enzyme that breaks it down. In contrast, medications that inhibit ACh should not be used in older adults, especially those at risk or with the diagnosis of dementia. Since 1992, the Beers Criteria recommend against the use of anticholinergic medications in older adults. 2-3 More data are emerging that changes associated with anticholinergic medications are permanent, with one study last year showing a 56% increase of dementia and 68% increase of Alzheimer’s disease with >1095 cumulative, standardized daily doses.4

With the new prospective, additional findings on brain imaging and cognitive testing, what are we to do when patients come to us with insomnia or incontinence that we often treat with anticholinergics? Anticholinergics, such as diphenhydramine, which is in all “PM” over-the-counter products, lose their sleep-inducing efficacy after only 3 nights.5Explaining to our patients that sleep needs decrease and sleep gets more fragmented with increasing age can reassure many worries. Lowering the temperature of the bedroom and moving bath time to earlier in the evening gives the brain the signal that it is time to go to sleep as the body temperature drops.

Almost all medications on the market for urge incontinence are anticholinergic, and, yes, antimuscarinics have the same effect on the brain. Kegel exercises, if done often (>45 times daily), are as effective as oxybutynin, even in men.6 Avoiding bladder irritants such as alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine can prevent incontinence. Many patients restrict their fluid intake in an attempt to avoid bladder accidents or to save trips to the bathroom, and do not feel thirsty due to apoptosis of the thirst center in the hypothalamus. A concentrated urine is very irritating to the bladder, and increasing fluid intake to at least 2 quarts a day can prevent urge incontinence. Extra efforts on our part can have significant benefits for our patients’ brains.

Does Sodium Intake Affect Mortality and CV Event Risk?

Sodium intake may not be associated with mortality or incident cardiovascular events in older adults, according to a study published Jan. 19 in the JAMA: Internal Medicine.

In the Health, Aging and Body Composition (Health ABC) Study, initiated in 1997, researchers assessed self-reported sodium intake from 2,642 Medicare beneficiaries, ages 71-80 years old. Participants were excluded for difficulties with walking or activities of daily life, cognitive impairment, inability to communicate, and previous heart failure (HF). At the first annual follow-up visit, researchers recorded food intake as reported by participants, specifically examining sodium intake. After 10 years, 34 percent of patients had died, while 29 percent and 15 percent had developed cardiovascular disease and HF, respectively.

The results of the study showed that there was no association between participant-reported sodium intake and 10-year mortality, incident HF or incident cardiovascular disease. Further, there was no indication that consuming less than 1,500 mg/d of sodium benefitted participants any more than consuming the recommended amount (1,500-2,300 mg/d). However, the study showed a slight potential for harm when participants had a sodium intake of greater than 2,300 mg/d, especially in women and African Americans.

The authors note that while the food frequency questionnaire used by participants at the first annual follow-up has limitations in its accuracy, “self-reported adoption of a low-salt diet was not associated with significantly higher risk for [any] events.” They conclude that moving forward, there is a need for further research and stronger evidence in order to create better recommendations for older adults.

– See more at:

ICU Stay Linked to Long-term Cognitive Impairment.

Long-term Cognitive Impairment After Critical Illness

Study Summary

People who survive life-threatening illness often have long-term, disabling cognitive impairment. However, few studies have addressed this serious complication.

The investigators studied 821 adults with respiratory failure or shock in the medical or surgical intensive care unit. At baseline, 6% had cognitive impairment, and 74% developed delirium during their hospitalization. Using the Repeatable Battery for the Assessment of Neuropsychological Status and the Trail Making Test, Part B, the investigators tested global cognition and executive function at 3 and 12 months after discharge.,

Global cognition scores at 3 months were 1.5 SD below the population means (or similar to scores for patients with moderate traumatic brain injury) in 40% of patients. Scores were 2 SD below the population means (or similar to scores for patients with mild Alzheimer disease) in 26% of patients. Younger patients as well as older patients had these deficits, which were persistent. At 12 months, 34% of all patients had scores similar to those with moderate traumatic brain injury, and 24% had scores similar to those with mild Alzheimer disease.

Longer duration of delirium was an independent predictor of worse global cognition at 3 months (P = .001) and at 12 months (P = .04) and of worse executive function at 3 months (P = .004) and at 12 months (P = .007). In contrast, sedative or analgesic use was not consistently associated with cognitive impairment at 3 and 12 months, after adjustment for delirium.


This large, multicenter, prospective cohort study with a diverse patient population had several limitations. These included inability to test patients’ cognition before their illness, inability of some patients to complete all cognitive tests, and possible bias related to unmeasured confounders.

Nonetheless, this study showed that cognitive impairment after critical illness is very common and may persist in some patients for at least 1 year. At 12 months after critical illness, 1 of every 4 patients had cognitive impairment similar in severity to that of patients with mild Alzheimer disease, and 1 of 3 had impairment similar to that seen in moderate traumatic brain injury.


Cognitive deficits were more likely in patients with a longer duration of delirium. Although the mechanisms underlying this association are still unclear, delirium is associated with inflammation and neuronal apoptosis, which may result in brain atrophy. These findings suggest that interventions to reduce delirium could have the potential to reduce brain injury associated with critical illness.

Source: NEJM



Completely Blind People Still Able To React To Light.

Photo credit: gun4hire

 1484  77  2 reddit0 googleplus1

Humans need light for a variety of reasons. Beyond allowing us to perceive our environment with sight, light also activates activity in the brain. A recent study has unexpectedly shown that even individuals who are completely blind are influenced by the presence of light. The presence or absence of light controls many bodily functions, including heart rate, attentiveness, mood, and reflexes. The study will be published in an upcoming edition of Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience. The work is a collaboration between a research team at the University of Montreal and the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

The experiment was performed by exposing people who are completely blind to a blue light. The light was turned on and off and the participants were asked whether the light was on or off. The participants were shown to have a non-conscious response to the light, despite not being able to see it. There were more positive identifications made than could be explained by chance alone, though the awareness was non-conscious. This light perception comes from ganglion cells in the retina, which are different from the rod and cone cells that process light for sight.

Next, researchers tested if attentiveness was affected by the presence of light. For this activity, participants had to match sounds with lights on or off. Even though the participants could not visualize the light, they showed an increased attentiveness when light was shining into their eyes.

Finally, the test participants completed a brain scan with functional MRI (fMRI) to measure alertness, memory, and cognition recognition while performing tasks of matching sounds. Across the board, the tasks were completed more efficiently when light was present.

Because of these results, the researchers are speculating that light perception is part of the default mode network. This is the name for the brain activity that occurs non-consciously in the background, while other tasks take priority. They speculate that the ability to perceive light even without actively converting it into images is done to continually pay attention to and monitor the environment. If this is correct, it might help explain why cognitive performance is improved in the presence of light.

– See more at:

Maternal, congenital hypothyroidism affects brain development and cognitive ability.

Maternal hypothyroidism and congenital hypothyroidism affected the development of the child’s corpus callosum, resulting in different changes to the size and shape of regions such as the genu and affecting cognitive ability, a presenter said here.

 “The size of specific corpus callosum regions was associated with performance in different cognitive abilities,” said Joanne F. Rovet, MD,of the Hospital for Sick Children and the University of Toronto. “We observed in congenital hypothyroidism, a flat corpus callosum, a smaller and narrower genu and a normal splenium that was unaffected. In the maternal hypothyroidism group, instead, we found a normal shape corpus callosum, a smaller and wider genu and a larger, longer, skinnier splenium.”

In both studies, Rovet and colleagues instituted a quantitative and a qualitative approach, looking at the size and shape of the genu and splenium.

In the maternal hypothyroidism study, Rovet and colleagues looked at 20 children, aged 9 to 12 years (mean age, 10.3 years), born between 1996 and 2001 to women with hypothyroidism. They were age-matched to 22 controls. The researchers conducted a 4-hour neuropsychology exam and performed an MRI on each child.

Children born to mothers who had hypothyroidism during pregnancy showed smaller genus (P=.06) and larger splenium (P=.045) in both an area comparison and proportion comparison. Groups did not differ in overall corpus callosum shape, but they did differ in shape of genu and splenium.

Researchers also found that the children’s corpus callosum size and shape did not correlate with any specific trimester of maternal hypothyroidism, but their size of anterior and posterior segments correlated with duration of hypothyroidism in pregnancy. Anterior segments were smaller for children born to women with two (P=.01) or three (P=.017) trimesters of hypothyroidism vs. the controls. Posterior segments were larger for children born to women with two (P=.032) and three (P=.016) trimesters of hypothyroidism vs. controls. 

Rovet showed that larger anterior corpus callosum was associated with better reading ability, and larger genus was associated with better cognitive flexibility. Smaller isthmus correlated with better nonverbal memory while smaller splenium correlated with better verbal ability, Rovet said.

“Inadequately treated hypothyroidism in pregnancy disturbs corpus callosum development by disrupting the patterning of axonal growth and pruning,” she said.

In the congenital hypothyroidism study, researchers looked at 41 children aged 9 to 16 years (mean age, 12.4 years) whose median onset of congenital hypothyroidism was 13 days, median thyroid-stimulating hormone at diagnosis was 31.1 mU/L and mean thyroxine at diagnosis was 53.9 ± 36.2 nmol/L. They were matched with 42 controls for age (mean age, 12 years), sex and socioeconomic status. They underwent the same testing as in the maternal hypothyroidism group.

Children with congenital hypothyroidism had smaller (P<.01) and narrower (P<.05) genus with an abnormal shape to their overall corpus callosum due to their angle of curvature (P<.001) and less droop of the splenium (P=.017) as well as more “more bulbous” genus than controls.

Researchers found an association of the genu size with matrix reasoning (P=.009), abstract visual memory (P=.005) and visual reasoning (P=.017).

“Youth with [congenital hypothyroidism] show reduced size and width of corpus callosum genu, less curvature, abnormal orientation of splenium and more bulbous genus,” Rovet said. “More severe [congenital hypothyroidism] at diagnosis was associated with reduced size of genu.” – by Katrina Altersitz






R. Michael Tuttle

·         These findings further verify the critical importance of having normal thyroid functions in the mother and the fetus during pregnancy.  Rather than simply relying on cognitive function testing to prove an effect of hypothyroidism on the fetal brain, the finding of structural differences in specific regions of the corpus callosum clearly document the impact of hypothyroidism on the developing brain.

o    R. Michael Tuttle, MD

o    Professor of medicine 
Attending physician 
Memorial Sloan-Kettering Center


Brain Exercise Provides Benefits at Any Age.

Story at-a-glance

  • Engaging in cognitively stimulating activities both early and late in life is associated with slower cognitive decline later in life, new research revealed
  • The research supports the cognitive reserve hypothesis, which suggests that people with greater cognitive abilities have better cognitive function in later life, and may even be able to delay some symptoms of dementia despite physical changes in the brain
  • Research into brain plasticity has proven that your brain continues to make new neurons throughout life in response to mental activity
  • Online brain games, practicing mindfulness, and even reading and writing are examples of ways to challenge your mind for better cognitive function.
  • brain-exercise

Story at-a-glance

  • Engaging in cognitively stimulating activities both early and late in life is associated with slower cognitive decline later in life, new research revealed
  • The research supports the cognitive reserve hypothesis, which suggests that people with greater cognitive abilities have better cognitive function in later life, and may even be able to delay some symptoms of dementia despite physical changes in the brain
  • Research into brain plasticity has proven that your brain continues to make new neurons throughout life in response to mental activity
  • Online brain games, practicing mindfulness, and even reading and writing are examples of ways to challenge your mind for better cognitive function
  • There’s good news for bookworms… or really anyone who enjoys reading, writing and other ‘intellectual pursuits,’ especially if you’ve been doing such activities since you were a kid.
  • Researchers revealed that engaging in cognitively stimulating activities both early and late in life is associated with slower late-life cognitive decline.1
  • The research suggests that the sooner you start challenging your mind, the better, as those with more frequent cognitive activity over their lifespan fared the best, cognitively, in their later years. Researchers wrote:
  • “More frequent cognitive activity across the life span has an association with slower late-life cognitive decline that is independent of common neuropathologic conditions, consistent with the cognitive reserve hypothesis.”
  • The cognitive reserve hypothesis suggests that people with greater cognitive abilities (education, knowledge, etc.) have better cognitive function later in life, and may even be able to delay some symptoms of dementia despite physical changes in the brain that would typically be related to such symptoms in others.
  • The latest study supports this hypothesis, as have many before it. One such study showed, for example, that mice with the rodent equivalent of Alzheimer’s disease given high levels of cognitive activity throughout their lives were protected against memory impairment.2 The researchers noted:
  • “ … our data suggest that humans who emphasize a high lifelong level of cognitive activity (over and above social and physical activities) will attain the maximal environmental protection against AD [Alzheimer’s disease].”

·         Stimulating Your Brain Throughout Life Provides Protection Later On

Research into brain plasticity has proven that your brain continues to make new neurons throughout life in response to mental activity, which means that cognitive function can be improved, regardless of your age, and cognitive decline can be reversed.

However, if you don’t sufficiently challenge your brain with new, surprising information, it eventually begins to deteriorate. In my interview with Dr. Michael Merzenich, professor emeritus at the University of California, who has pioneered research in brain plasticity (also called neuroplasticity) for more than 30 years, he explained:

“Generally, by the third or fourth decade in life, you’re in decline. One of the things that happens across this period is that you go from a period of the acquisition of abilities to largely using those abilities that have been acquired earlier in life. By that I mean to say, the fundamental skills that you apply in your profession or in your everyday life are things you master, and you’re doing them without thought.

To a large extent, you’re operating most of your day without really being consciously engaged in the things you’re doing… I’ve gone without really thinking very much about the physical acts of driving. I’m substantially disengaged.

This has been contributed to substantially by modern culture. Modern culture is all about taking out surprises… to basically reduce the stimulation in a sense on one level, so that we could engage ourselves in sort of an abstract level of operations. We’re no longer interested in the details of things. We’re no longer interested in resolving the details of what we see or hear or feel, and our brains slowly deteriorate.”

What research into brain plasticity shows us, however, is that by providing your brain with appropriate stimulus, you can counteract this degeneration. A key factor or ingredient necessary for improving brain function or reversing functional decline is the seriousness of purpose with which you engage in a task. In other words, the task must be important to you, or somehow meaningful or interesting — it must hold your attention. Rote memorization of nonsensical or unimportant items will not stimulate your brain to create new neurons, for instance, but learning how to play a musical instrument that you’ve always dreamed of playing will.

Even Drinking Water May Boost Your Cognitive Performance

Your brain function is extremely vulnerable to your lifestyle choices (just try to complete a mentally challenging task after a lousy night’s sleep…). What you eat, for example, has an immense impact on your brain, and eating whole foods as described in mynutrition plan will best support your mental and physical health. But what you drink is also important, especially if you don’t drink enough.

Mild dehydration has been linked to declines in brain function, and new research showed that people who were allowed to drink water before a reaction time test responded up to 14 percent faster than those who were not.3 People who said they felt thirsty were particularly likely to react faster after drinking water, so if you’re thirsty and you need a quick mental boost, try drinking a glass of water.

‘Brain Games’ to Boost Your Brain Function

If you’re wondering what you can do to effectively challenge your brain, it doesn’t have to be as extensive as learning a new language or other skill. Simply reading and writing were found to be beneficial in the first study mentioned above, for instance, as has playing word games like crossword puzzles.

Another option that is becoming increasingly popular today is ‘brain games’ which you can play online via Web sites like Dr. Merzenich has also developed a computer-based brain-training program that can help you sharpen a range of skills, from reading and comprehension to improved memorization and more. The program is called Brain HQ, and the website has many different exercises designed to improve brain function and it also allows you to track and monitor your progress over time. While there are many similar sites on the Web, Brain HQ is one of the oldest and most widely used.

If you decide to try brain games, ideally it would be wise to invest at least 20 minutes a day, but no more than five to seven minutes is to be spent on a specific task. When you spend longer amounts of time on a task, the benefits weaken. According to Dr. Merzenich, the primary benefits occur in the first five or six minutes of the task.

5 More Tips to Strengthen Your Cognitive Function

There are multiple strategies you can use on a daily basis, as part of your day-to-day lifestyle, to help maintain optimal brain fitness:

  1. Get 15-30 minutes of physical exercise each day, and while exercising, think about using your brain to control your actions. Exercising while listening to music has also been shown to prompt beneficial brain changes.
  2. Spend about five minutes every day working on the refinement of a specific, small domain of your physical body. Dr. Merzenich explains:

“That is to say, move in a very variable and controlled way – variable in speed, variable to reach a target, for example, with your big toe or your little finger. Do that every day. I do that in a systematic way, because I’m trying to maintain the fidelity of the neurological control movement. I know that I’m very much thinking about the feeling in my movements as I do that.”

  1. Find ways to engage yourself in new learning as a continuous aspect of your life, such as taking on new hobbies and purposefully learning new skills.
  2. Stay socially engaged.
  3. Practice “mindfulness,” in which you’re attentively focusing on the world around you again, as if you’re seeing it for the first time.


Multiple effects of physical activity on molecular and cognitive signs of brain aging: can exercise slow neurodegeneration and delay Alzheimer’s disease?

Western countries are experiencing aging populations and increased longevity; thus, the incidence of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease (AD) in these countries is projected to soar. In the absence of a therapeutic drug, non-pharmacological preventative approaches are being investigated. One of these approaches is regular participation in physical activity or exercise. This paper reviews studies that have explored the relationship between physical activity and cognitive function, cognitive decline, AD/dementia risk and AD-associated biomarkers and processes. There is now strong evidence that links regular physical activity or exercise to higher cognitive function, decreased cognitive decline and reduced risk of AD or dementia. Nevertheless, these associations require further investigation, more specifically with interventional studies that include long follow-up periods. In particular, relatively little is known about the underlying mechanism(s) of the associations between physical activity and AD neuropathology; clearly this is an area in need of further research, particularly in human populations. Although benefits of physical activity or exercise are clearly recognised, there is a need to clarify how much physical activity provides the greatest benefit and also whether people of different genotypes require tailored exercise regimes.

Source: Nature




Physical and cognitive functioning of people older than 90 years: a comparison of two Danish cohorts born 10 years apart.


A rapidly increasing proportion of people in high-income countries are surviving into their tenth decade. Concern is widespread that the basis for this development is the survival of frail and disabled elderly people into very old age. To investigate this issue, we compared the cognitive and physical functioning of two cohorts of Danish nonagenarians, born 10 years apart.


People in the first cohort were born in 1905 and assessed at age 93 years (n=2262); those in the second cohort were born in 1915 and assessed at age 95 years (n=1584). All cohort members were eligible irrespective of type of residence. Both cohorts were assessed by surveys that used the same design and assessment instrument, and had almost identical response rates (63%). Cognitive functioning was assessed by mini-mental state examination and a composite of five cognitive tests that are sensitive to age-related changes. Physical functioning was assessed by an activities of daily living score and by physical performance tests (grip strength, chair stand, and gait speed).


The chance of surviving from birth to age 93 years was 28% higher in the 1915 cohort than in the 1905 cohort (6·50% vs 5·06%), and the chance of reaching 95 years was 32% higher in 1915 cohort (3·93% vs 2·98%). The 1915 cohort scored significantly better on the mini-mental state examination than did the 1905 cohort (22·8 [SD 5·6] vs 21·4 [6·0]; p<0·0001), with a substantially higher proportion of participants obtaining maximum scores (28—30 points; 277 [23%] vs 235 [13%]; p<0·0001). Similarly, the cognitive composite score was significantly better in the 1915 than in the 1905 cohort (0·49 [SD 3·6] vs 0·01 [SD 3·6]; p=0·0003). The cohorts did not differ consistently in the physical performance tests, but the 1915 cohort had significantly better activities of daily living scores than did the 1905 cohort (2·0 [SD 0·8] vs 1·8 [0·7]; p<0·0001).


Despite being 2 years older at assessment, the 1915 cohort scored significantly better than the 1905 cohort on both the cognitive tests and the activities of daily living score, which suggests that more people are living to older ages with better overall functioning.

Source: Lancet