In the news: Think Positively about Aging; Higher Omega-3s Linked to Better Cognition in Teens
Alzheimer’s & Negative Stereotypes of Aging
Yale researchers report finding a preliminary link between Alzheimer’s and what they call negative age stereotypes (1) – holding negative beliefs about aging, such as old people are “decrepit” and “absent-minded”.
Although negative age stereotypes have been found to predict a number of adverse outcomes among older individuals, the researchers wanted to explore whether the influence of these stereotypes might also affect brain structure and biomarkers of Alzheimer’s.
To do this, they drew upon participants in the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging who were free of dementia at the study’s start. Age stereotypes were assessed, and up to 10 yearly MRI brain scans were performed.
Those who held more negative age stereotypes earlier in life were found to have significantly steeper shrinkage of the hippocampus, a critical brain region for maintaining memory.
They had also accumulated more neurofibrillary tangles (twisted strands of protein that build up inside brain cells), and amyloid plaques (protein clusters that build up between brain cells) – changes typically seen in the brains of people who have died with Alzheimer’s.
The researchers think that cumulative stress generated by the negative beliefs about aging may help trigger these brain changes. While more human research is needed to verify these findings, a series of studies have found that experimentally stressed animals show similar changes. The authors also point out that the rate of Alzheimer’s in the US, where negative age stereotypes are common, is 5 times that of India where elders are traditionally venerated.
There are ways to help combat negative stereotypes and adopt a more positive outlook, which is key to managing stress. For tips on positive thinking, try the Mayo Clinic website.
Omega-3s & Faster Information Processing
Teenagers with higher blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids may have better information processing speeds, according to a university study conducted in The Netherlands (2). Speed of information refers to how quickly students can react to incoming information, understand it, and formulate then execute a response.
The researchers used baseline data from 266 students, aged 13-15, who participated in a randomized, double blind trial. Blood samples were used to calculate the Omega-3 Index, and a battery of tests was used to assess cognitive performance. The amount of EPA + DHA stored in red blood cells relative to other fatty acids is called the Omega-3 Index. The American Heart Association considers a poor index score a risk factor for heart disease, while an index of 6.5% or more correlates with lower risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD). Some experts recommend a range of 8-11%.
In this study, having a higher Omega-3 index was associated with better information processing speeds and attention. The average Omega-3 index in this group of Dutch students was 3.83%, which is relatively low. Nearly 14% of the participants said they didn’t consume fish, and 77% ate fish only rarely.
Americans fare no better. A recent paper (3) reports that some 95% of a nationally representative US sample had an Omega-3 index less than 4%. In addition, the newly published Dietary Guidelines (2015-2020) emphasize that eating at least 8 oz. of seafood weekly (250 mg of EPA and DHA) is associated with lower cardiac deaths among people with and without preexisting CVD, as well as healthier infants among pregnant and breastfeeding women.
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