An apple a day helps your brain

 

 

red-3580560__340My husband and I watch Jeopardy almost every night. Lately, I’m noticing my response time has slowed down. I know the answer, or rather the question, but I can’t come up with it as fast as I used to.

A study from the University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences suggests a way I can regain my competitive edge. Fiber. What?

As mammals age, immune cells in the brain known as microglia become chronically inflamed. Then they produce chemicals known to impair cognitive and motor function. That’s one explanation for why memory fades and other brain functions decline during old age.

The remedy appears to be eating more fiber. This causes good bacteria in the gut to grow. And that leads to a byproduct called butyrate. A drug called sodium butyrate has been shown to improve memory in mice, according to Professor Rodney Johnson.

His new study reveals, in old mice, that butyrate inhibits production of damaging chemicals by inflamed microglia. One of those chemicals is interleukin-1?, which has been associated with Alzheimer’s disease in humans.

It seems sodium butyrate has a bad smell, so people are not likely to want to take it. A diet high in soluble fiber is a more pleasant alternative.

Interestingly, a low fiber diet didn’t cause gut inflammation in young mice, only old mice.

The researchers did not examine the effects of the diet on cognition. That comes next courtesy of a new, almost-$2 million grant from the National Institute on Aging, part of the National Institutes of Health.

Johnson feels his findings in mice should apply to humans too. “What you eat matters. We know that older adults consume 40 percent less dietary fiber than is recommended. Not getting enough fiber could have negative consequences for things you don’t even think about, such as connections to brain health and inflammation in general.”

According to WebMD, foods containing high levels of soluble fiber include dried beans, oats, oat bran, rice bran, barley, citrus fruits, apples, strawberries, peas, and potatoes.

That spple a day advice is right on.

 

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Want to keep working? Plan ahead

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A study done at the University of Gothenburg says if you plan to work in your senior years, you should start planning before age 50.

The researchers, psychologists Kerstin Wentz and Kristina Gyllensten, say their participants engaged in what they call career crafting. This meant taking themselves seriously and thinking about what they wanted in life. Remaining employed at least part time allowed them to flourish and avoid boredom while maintaining a social life. They were proactive about learning new things.

The researchers advise vocational counseling for those age 45 similar to what is given to teenagers. They also advocate making student loans available.

As an avid devotee of MOOCs and webinars, I love this idea. Personally, I grew to hate the career in the insurance industry I stumbled into at age 18. At age 45, I embarked on a master’s degree to pursue something more meaningful. I cycled through several stop gap jobs until I finally got a job at a community college. That whole process might have been shortened if I had done better research and planning.

What’s your story? Will you continue working past “normal” retirement age?

Brain clutter

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Oh, man. It’s not enough that I have to worry about clutter in my house. Now I have to worry about clutter in my brain.

According to a study done at Georgia Institute of Technology, older people lack confidence in what they remember because their brains have absorbed not only what they focused on but also non-essential info, i.e., clutter-what other conversations were taking place around them, what music was playing.

Younger folks apparently don’t have this problem. Their brains don’t store the irrelevant details in the first place.

The researchers point out that this can be particularly problematic for seniors if someone tries to scam them. They can be convinced they have forgotten something that never took place.

I feel a little ambivalent about all of this. As a writer, I would think that the ability, albeit unconscious, to note more details would be an advantage, not a detriment. Is this a function purely of having lived longer and having more backstory to connect new material to? Do we become less sure of everything as we age just because we’re increasingly aware of how little we really know?