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Health News Archive 27 - Brain and Alzheimer's (con't)
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Cranberries Protect Brain From Stroke Damage

Numerous studies have established the benefits of cranberries for supporting urinary health. Recently researchers have also shown that cranberries help to raise HDL (“good cholesterol”) blood levels and increase plasma antioxidant levels, both important factors for reducing the risk of heart disease. New laboratory findings suggest that cranberries are effective in aiding recovery from stroke, especially during early stages when severe cellular damage occurs.

In a presentation delivered at the September 2003 meeting of the American Chemical Society, researchers described how cultivated rat neurons were divided into groups and exposed to varying concentrations of cranberry extract. Following treatment to simulate the effects of stroke, the researchers discovered that cranberry significantly reduced brain cell death. In fact, neurons exposed to the higher concentrations of cranberry had only a fifty percent reduction in the number of brain cells that died, in comparison to cells that did not receive cranberry extract.

“This study shows that cranberries have the potential to protect against brain cell damage that occurs during a stroke event,” said Catherine Neto, an assistant professor at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth and a lead investigator in the study. “It may not stop a stroke from occurring initially, but it may reduce the severity of a stroke,” she added.

226th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society, Sep 8, 2003.

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GABA May Improve Higher Brain Functions in Elderly

British researchers have found that the age-related decline in higher brain functions is due, in large part, to a lack of the inhibitory neurotransmitter, GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid). Higher brain functions, such as visual recognition and language comprehension, decline as people get older. This decline appears due to a reduction of GABA, which results in neurons with specific tasks being more easily fired by some other types of stimulus, slowing down processing of information in the brain.

As people age, brain neurons increasingly fire non-selectively, and interpreting information then becomes like listening to "whispering in the discotheque as opposed to shouting in a quiet room." The new research shows that GABA works as a "gating" mechanism to help neurons remain selective when responding to stimuli to enable the brain to make sense of the vast quantity of incoming information.

When old Macaque monkeys, equivalent to 90-year-old humans, were treated with GABA and drugs that increase GABA levels in the brain, their performance on tests for brain functions improved vastly within a couple of minutes. "The fact is all the cells are still there and functioning, it's a transmitter problem - it's treatable." While doctors have observed the paradoxical effect of GABA-enhancing drugs making people more alert, this is the first study to show that increasing GABA or its effects can reverse mental decline.

The team is now exploring the effects of GABA further and has filed patent applications for this new role of GABA-enhancing drugs in humans.

Science: vol 300, p 812.

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Omega-3 Fatty Acids Reduce Alzheimer’s Risk

A prospective study published in the July 2003 issue of Archives of Neurology, a journal of the American Medical Association, found that consuming omega-3 fatty acids and fish was associated with a lower risk of Alzheimer's disease

The study which was conducted between 1993 and 2000, included men and women aged 65 to 94 who were participants in the Chicago Health and Aging project. Participants provided dietary information via food frequency questionnaires 1.9 years following baseline interviews and were contacted at three years for follow-up interviews. At that time, a sampling of 815 subjects was selected for clinical evaluation to determine the incidence of Alzheimer's disease. 131 patients in the sampling were found to have developed Alzheimer's.

Of the subjects who reported fish consumption once per week or more frequently, there was a 60 percent lower risk of developing Alzheimer's disease compared to those who reported rarely or never eating fish. Participants whose omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid intake was in the top fifth of the group experienced a 70 percent lower risk of developing Alzheimer's than those whose intake was in the lowest fifth. When the omega-3 fatty acid docosahexaenonic acid (DHA) was examined separately, the protective effect against Alzheimer's disease increased with its intake. The same benefit was not observed for the other fish-derived omega-3 fatty acid, EPA. Researchers noted that the range of EPA intake was low and that higher doses obtained from fish oil supplements may still have a beneficial effect.  

DHA is the most abundant fatty acid in the phospholipids of the cerebrum, and DHA composes 45 to 65 percent of the phosphatidylserine in the mitochondria, which plays a role in neuronal signaling. Researchers hypothesized that this may explain some of its protective effects in Alzheimer's disease.

Source: Archives of Neurology, American Medical Association, July 2003

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FDA Allows Qualified Health Claims For Phosphatidyl Serine (PS) Related To Cognitive Dysfunction & Dementia In Elderly

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized two health claims for PS in February 2003.  The first claim, “Phosphatidylserine (PS) may reduce the risk of cognitive dysfunction in the elderly”, and the second claim, “Phosphatidylserine (PS) may reduce the risk of dementia in the elderly”, also carry the FDA’s required disclaimer language.

In the filing, the petitioner, Dr. Kyle Smith, stated that, “Phosphatidylserine is both a food and a food ingredient and is safe and lawful at the levels necessary to justify the proposed health claim”, thus meeting the FDA’s regulations.  Although there is no Reference Daily Intake (RDI) for PS and the health claim does not identify specific intake quantities, studies have shown that PS supplementation has nutritive value from 75 mg – 500 mg per day. 

“The establishment of health claims for PS is very significant, since approximately 5 million Americans, including a large percentage of the elderly, have some form of cognitive dysfunction or dementia.  This development underscores the health benefits of PS, and now allows the addition of PS to many more products targeted to consumers and their mental performance”, said Scott Hagerman, president of Chemi Nutraceuticals.

Chemi Nutraceuticals is the US branch of parent company Chemi S.p.A., a privately held pharmaceutical and nutraceutical company based in Milan, Italy.  Chemi, with cGMP certified manufacturing facilities in Italy and Brazil, is best known in the US nutritional arena for its introduction of phosphatidylserine (PS), the popular dietary supplement used to enhance learning, memory, and concentration.

More information on Phosphatidyl Sereine

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Increased Intake of Niacin May Reduce Risk of Developing Alzheimer's

Reduced intake of the B vitamin niacin may predispose elderly people to develop Alzheimer's disease, according to a study presented at the 2002 Gerontological Society of America's 55th Annual Scientific Meeting.

In the study, the researchers determined food intake by use of a questionnaire in which 815 healthy participants indicated the frequency with which they consumed niacin-rich foods. The researchers then determined how much niacin the subjects, who were at least 65 years old, had consumed. The researchers then conducted follow up studies to determine which subjects developed Alzheimer's over the next four years.

The findings indicate that those people who obtained the highest levels of niacin from their diet were 79 percent less likely to develop Alzheimer's than those who consumed the lowest level of niacin. Half of the subjects who fell into low risk for Alzheimer's consumed more than 22 mg of niacin daily. Of those subjects who consumed the lowest amount of niacin, half received less than 13 milligrams per day.

Even a small increase in niacin dosage appeared to offer benefits. The subjects who consumed the second­lowest amount of niacin were 70 percent less likely to develop Alzheimer's during the study than those who consumed the least.

Gerontological Society of America's 55th Annual Scientific Meeting, Boston, Massachusetts, November 2002.

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Fish Consumption Linked to Decreased Risk of Alzheimer's

An October 2002 study published in the British Medical Journal indicates that people who consume fish are less likely to develop dementia, including Alzheimer's disease.

The researchers examined the eating habits of 1,416 adults in France age 68 and older who did not suffer from dementia at the beginning of the study. The researchers determined how much meat and seafood the subjects consumed and followed them for two, five and seven years to see how many developed dementia.

During the seven years of follow up, 170 new cases of dementia occurred, including 135 cases of Alzheimer's disease. The researchers determined that people who ate fish or seafood at least once a week had a significantly lower risk of developing dementia. Those who ate fish once weekly were found to be 34 percent less likely to develop dementia than those who consumed less or no fish.

It is thought that the omega-3 fatty acids in fish are what may protect against Alzheimer's and dementia. Omega-3 fatty acids may protect the brain by reducing inflammation, maintaining blood vessel health and playing a part in the regeneration of nerve cells.

Source: Barberger-Gateau P, Letenneur L, Deschamps V, Pérès K, Dartigues JF, Renaud S. Fish, meat, and risk of dementia: cohort study. British Medical Journal. October 25, 2002;325:932-933.

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