Exciting: New ‘Seaweed-Based’ Alzheimer’s Drug Shows Extreme Promise

It has been nearly 20 years since a new drug has been developed to combat Alzheimer’s disease. Thankfully, it won’t be another 20 years until such a feat is accomplished, as a new drug called Oligomannate has been approved for the treatment of “mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease and improving cognitive function.” Only thing is – the approval takes place in China, and has yet to go through the proper channels to become approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

Dementia, used to describe a decline in cognitive function and memory, is said to be one of the costliest conditions we’re facing today. The prevalence of dementia is shocking, with an estimated 50 million people worldwide living with the condition in 2017. Worse, this number will almost double every 20 years.

Unfortunately, there has been little headway in terms of medical advancement in reliably treating and preventing the disease. Of course, we’ve made strides in discovering what might be the root causes and how to combat those root causes, but no real solution has yet to surface from the medical field.

As explained by Dr. Ronald Petersen, it’s hypothesized that Alzheimer’s disease is caused by the presence of plaques and tangles in the brain. These plaques, known as amyloid plaques, build up in the brain in much the same way that plaques can build up in our arteries, causing the neural pathways to be slowed and damaged. Further, once these amyloid plaques are misprocessed and present in the brain, it leads to the misprocessing of something known as tau proteins, which leads to tangles in the brain, the death of nerve cells, and ultimately, dementia.

A Glimmer of Hope – Seaweed

In 1997, Geng Meiyu at the Shanghai Institute of Materia Medica under the Chinese Academy of Sciences and other researchers discovered how a sugar found in seaweed could somehow play a role in preventing Alzheimer’s disease. What they didn’t realize was that more than 20 years later the research would expand into something that could be extremely exciting for the world at large.

Interestingly, it has been observed that there’s a lower incidence of Alzheimer’s among those who eat lots of seaweed, leading the researchers to hone in on the possible preventative connection.

Geng Meiyu and researchers published a paper outlining how the molecule found in seaweed reduces the formation of a protein harmful to neurons while also regulating the bacterium colonies in the gut to reduce the risk of brain inflammation. This means that Oligomannate not only relieves individuals of dementia symptoms, but also targets what is said to be the root cause of the disease – the amyloid plaques.

Though we should know by now that gut health influences our body on every level, this research “doubles down” on just how strong the connection between the gut and brain health truly is.

“These results advance our understanding of the mechanisms that play a role in Alzheimer’s disease and imply that the gut microbiome is a valid target for the development of therapies,” neurologist Philip Scheltens, who advises Green Valley and heads the Alzheimer Center Amsterdam, said in the statement.

For more than 20 years, pharmaceutical companies have invested hundreds of billions of dollars on Alzheimer’s drugs. South China Morning Post reports that more than 320 drugs were brought to clinical trial, with only 5 being approved for clinical use to relieve dementia symptoms. Unfortunately, none of them rose above the challenge that is Alzheimer’s, leading to the closure of numerous Alzheimer’s-related programs.

Though Oligomannate will be approved “very soon” in China, it will have to go through numerous hurdles to get approval by other government bodies to be used in places like Europe and the U.S.

Alzheimer’s is scary. Though everyone should practice every natural, preventative solution as possible, such as exercising regularly, training your brain with mental exercises, and consuming brain-healthy coconut oil, it’s exciting to see any advancement into treating an ailment we have largely failed at treating.

Dementia Rates in the U.S. Fell 24% from 2000 to 2012, But…

The thought of developing dementia in old age is terrifying for many, especially if they’ve watched a loved one suffer under its grip. A bit of good news, though; a study in JAMA Internal Medicine showed that overall dementia rates in the United States fell 24% from 2000 to 2012. That means about one million fewer Americans had the condition. [1]

Dr. Kenneth Langa, a professor of internal medicine at the University of Michigan and a coauthor of the new study, said:

“It’s definitely good news. Even without a cure for Alzheimer’s disease or a new medication, there are things that we can do socially and medically and behaviorally that can significantly reduce the risk.”

The term “dementia” refers to a loss of memory or other mental abilities severe enough to interfere with daily life. Alzheimer’s disease, caused by a buildup of plaques and neurofibrillary tangles in the brain, is the most common form of dementia. Vascular dementia, which can occur after a person has suffered a stroke, is the 2nd most common form of dementia.

Source: Alzheimer’s San Diego

Determining the Numbers

The study, which began in 1992, looked at over 21,000 adults over age 50. Data were collected on the individuals every two years. Researchers conducted detailed interviews with the participants about their health, income, cognitive ability, and life circumstances. The investigators also conducted physical tests and body measurements, and took blood and saliva samples. They discovered the following:

  • Dementia prevalence among adults 65 and older decreased from 11.6% in 2000 to 8.8% in 2012
  • Participants who had more education had the lowest rates of dementia
  • The average years of education increased significantly from 11.8 years in 2000 to 12.7 years in 2012.
  • The drop in dementia prevalence occurred despite a significant age- and sex-adjusted increase in between the data-collection years in the cardiovascular risk profile (e.g., prevalence of hypertension, diabetes, and obesity) among older U.S. adults.

Read: How to Stay Sharp and Avoid Dementia as You Age

Contributing Factors to the Decline

The reasons behind the drop in dementia rates aren’t clear, but there are some findings that stand out.

The JAMA study shows – as do past studies – that both early education and lifelong education appear to help keep the mind healthy and sharp. The authors suggest that perhaps education ought to be viewed as “a potent strategy for the primary prevention of dementia in both high- and low-income countries around the world.”

In fact, according to the authors, past studies have shown that:

“…the relationships among education, brain biology, and cognitive function are complex and likely multidirectional; for instance, a number of recent population-based studies have shown genetic links with level of educational attainment and with the risk of cognitive decline in later life.”

Additionally, highly educated individuals are more likely to not smoke, to get more exercise, and to eat a healthier diet. This is also true of people who have more cognitively complex occupations.

Source: Public Health England

Better access to healthcare also played a role in the decline, the researchers wrote.

Dementia is Still a Serious Problem

The advice embedded in the results is clear: stay active, both physically and mentally. Never stop learning. Eat right. Don’t smoke. More people are getting the message that staying propped up in front of the TV is hazardous to health, and are heeding the warning.

Overall, the drop in dementia rates could be largely due to the better control of cardiovascular risk factors, like high blood pressure and diabetes.

Keith Fargo is the director of scientific programs and outreach, medical and scientific relations, at the Alzheimer’s Association. He said:

“If you control those risk factors, it’s natural to expect that rates of vascular dementia will go down. It’s also reasonable to expect that Alzheimer’s-related dementia may go down as well because now, instead of having both, you have Alzheimer’s in an overall healthier brain.” [2]

Read: How Music ‘Radically’ Improves the Brain, Dementia, and Alzheimer’s

However, Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of memory loss remain a huge public health challenge and a significant financial burden. There are currently about five million Americans suffering with dementia. As people continue to live longer, that number is expected to triple by 2050. [1]

The number of Americans over age 65 is expected to double by 2050, to 84 million. That means that even if the percentage of elderly people who develop dementia is smaller than previously estimated, the total number of Americans with dementia will continue to increase, according to Fargo. He said:

“Alzheimer’s is going to remain the public health crisis of our time, even with modestly reduced rates.”

Dr. Sam Gandy, director of the Center for Cognitive Health at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, said:

“What we need now is to educate middle-aged people, since that’s where the risk factors are most important. Unfortunately, as the baby boomers turn 80, I worry that the silver tsunami will swamp this benefit.” [2]


[1] CNN

[2] UPI


Alzheimer’s San Diego

Public Health England

Researchers: Mediterranean Diet Could Protect Your Brain As You Age

Adopting a Mediterranean-style diet may help protect your brain as you age, numerous studies show. [1]

At least 2 studies concluded that people’s risk for dementia declined when they ate the Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurogenerative Delay (MIND) diet. Think of it as sort of a hybrid of the original Mediterranean diet and the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diets, both of which were designed to improve heart health.

The DASH diet consists of foods that are low in saturated fat, total fat, and cholesterol, and is intended to lower blood pressure. It is rich in fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy, whole grains, poultry, fish, and nuts. It’s quite similar to the Mediterranean diet, but the Mediterranean diet is a bit more specific, in that butter is replaced with olive oil and other healthful fats, and herbs are substituted for salt.

Source: Gill Heart & Vascular Institute

In one of those studies, seniors who strictly followed the MIND diet were found to have a 35% reduced risk of age-related decline in brain function. Even those who followed the diet loosely reduced their risk of brain decline between 18-24%. Those who closely followed the diet were also 35% less likely to perform poorly on tests of brain function.

Dean Hartley, director of science initiatives for the Alzheimer’s Association, said:

“We’ve always been saying that a healthy heart is a healthy brain. Your brain uses 20% of your cardiac output for getting oxygen and glucose. If you don’t have a good pump, that saps the brain of a lot of things needed to sustain its normal function.”

Adhering to a heart-healthy diet also helps protect blood vessels inside the brain, thereby reducing the risk of mini-strokes and other health problems.

Read: 7 Natural Brain Foods for Cognition and Concentration

The second study used data from the U.S.-based Women’s Health Initiative Memory Study, which involved about 7,000 women over the course of 10 years. That research revealed that women who closely followed the MIND diet were 34% less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease compared to the women who didn’t follow the diet at all.

However, like the first study, following the MIND diet even part of the time still provided much-needed health perks. Women who moderately followed the eating pattern were between 21-24% less likely to develop Alzheimer’s, the researchers found.

Even More Evidence

Source: Canadian Living

An additional 2 studies presented at the Alzheimer’s Association meeting revealed the following:

  • In a Swedish study of more than 2,000 participants, those who ate a healthy diet called the ‘Nordic Prudent Dietary Pattern’ for 6 years had better brain health. People who follow the Nordic diet limit their consumption of root vegetables, refined grains, butter and margarine, as well as sugary foods and fruit juice.
  • Researchers from Columbia University found that people who consumed a diet that encourages inflammation had a difficult time playing brain games. A smaller total volume of gray matter was observed in MRI scans of those participants’ brains. What is an inflammatory diet? High intake of cholesterol, sugar, vegetable oil, fried foods, saturated fats, and more.

It’s important to note that all of the studies were observational, so they can’t prove cause-and-effect. In order to do that, scientifically controlled experiments are necessary. [2]

Read: 5 Things You Should be Eating to Protect Your Brain as It Ages

A lead study author Claire McEvoy, of the University of California, San Francisco’s School of Medicine, said:

“I think the studies, taken together, suggest a role for high quality dietary patterns in brain health and for protection against cognitive decline during aging. Diet is modifiable, and in light of these studies we need clinical trials to test whether changing diet can improve or maintain cognition.”

Keith Fargo, Alzheimer’s Association Director of Scientific Programs and Outreach, was encouraged by the size and depth of the research. He said:

“Although the idea that a healthy diet can help protect against cognitive decline as we age is not new, the size and length of these 4 studies demonstrate how powerful good dietary practices may be in maintaining brain health and function.”


[1] Health Day

[2] CNN

Gill Heart & Vascular Institute

Canadian Living

This Daily, Stressful Activity “Steadily Lowers IQ”

A great many people who have long commutes to and from work loathe the amount of time they spend in their car. The traffic, the monotony, the stormy days when you white-knuckle both trips can be draining. Well, it turns out that these drives a bit more than frustrating; they may actually drain people of their intelligence. [1]

Researchers in Britain found that regularly driving more than 2 hours a day steadily lowers IQ, especially in middle-aged adults.

How and why?

The physically- and mentally-sedentary process of sitting behind the wheel for long stretches can cause stress and fatigue, both of which are factors in brain decline, according to the authors of the study.

Study: Driving While Dehydrated “Just as Dangerous as Driving Intoxicated”

Researcher Rosa Sancho said:

“Staying mentally and physically active helps keep our brains healthy, so it is not surprising.”

Kishan Bakrania, a medical epidemiolo­gist at Leicester University in Britain, said:

“We know that regularly driving for more than 2 to 3 hours a day is bad for your heart. This research suggests it is bad for your brain, too, perhaps because your mind less active in those hours.”

Studying the Link Between Driving and Brain Decline

For the study, researchers looked at the lifestyles of more than 500,000 Britons ages 37 to 73 for 5 years. [2]

Bakrania said:

“Cognitive decline is measurable over 5 years because it can happen fast in middle-aged and older people. This is associated with lifestyle factors such as smoking and bad diet — and now with time spent driving.”

During that time, the participants took intelligence and memory tests.

Two key results arose from the study:

  • 93,000 people who drove for more than 2 to 3 hours a day generally had lower brainpower before the launch of the study.
  • During the study period, the participants’ brainpower continued to decline, and did so at a faster rate than for people who spent minimal time on the road.

In his earlier research, Bakrania found that TV viewing affected the brain in much the same way driving for too long affected the brain. People who typically watched 2 to 3 hours of TV a day had lower brainpower at the start of the study, and their brainpower declined throughout the research.

The opposite was true of those who used computers. Whether it was for work or play, using a computer up to 2 or 3 hours a day increased brain function.

Read: Blood Clots: “The Silent Danger of Road Trips”

Bakrania said:

“Cognitive skills were boosted in people who used computers up to two to three hours a day. When watching TV, your brain is less active but using a computer is stimulating.”

Bakrania theorizes there are other factors at play in IQ decline during driving besides inactivity. He explained:

“Driving causes stress and fatigue, with studies showing the links between them and cognitive decline.” [3]

The scientists said people who frequently spend more than 2 hours behind the wheel should minimize their driving time and take up mentally-stimulating activities.


[1] New York Post

[2] The Sunday Times

[3] Independent

Stress Could Literally be Shrinking Your Brain, a Study Says

Stress is getting to a lot of people these days. Even if you have a great job, plenty of money in the bank, and a healthy family, the current political climate can be enough to make you pack your bags and move to the mountains. It’s important for overall health to minimize stress as much as possible, especially seeing as stress could quite literally shrink your brain and hamper cognitive function. [1]

Middle-aged adults with the highest levels of the stress hormone cortisol had lower brain volume and cognitive functioning than people with lower levels of cortisol, researchers found.

The study didn’t follow participants to see if they developed dementia, but brain shrinkage could be a precursor of future cognitive decline, according to study co-author Dr. Sudha Seshadri, a professor of neurology at UT Health San Antonio.

“We have previously shown that changes of this magnitude do predict level of mental dementia, even vascular brain injury, 2 or 3 decades later.”

Cortisol is a hormone that the human body needs for a variety of functions, including metabolism, immunity, and memory formation. But unwelcome amounts of the hormone is produced when you experience stress, and too much of it can lead to weight gain (particularly in your midsection and face), acne, severe fatigue, and a slew of other health problems. [1] [2]

Read: 5 Ways Stress Affects Your Mind and Body

How Stress Affects Cognition and Memory

Seshadri and colleagues looked at more than 22,000 adults participating in the Framingham Heart Study, with an average age of 48. Each adult underwent a psychological exam testing their memory and thinking skills at the beginning of the study, and again about 8 years later. The participants provided blood samples to allow the researchers to measure cortisol levels, and most of the subjects underwent MRI scans to measure brain volume. [1]

After the tests were completed and the team analyzed the results (while accounting for demographic and health information), they found that there was a link between elevated cortisol levels and lower total brain volume, as well as lower scores on memory and cognition tests, despite all of the participants being dementia-free.

The effect was more pronounced in women than men, though it’s not clear whether this was because women are more stressed-out or because they’re more susceptible to the effects of stress. [3]

Participants with the highest levels of cortisol had reduced volume in the frontal and occipital lobes of the brain. What’s more, these individuals showed changes to the white matter (the tracks of connections between neurons), which may be a sign of poorer connectivity.

Seshadri said:

“In our quest to understand cognitive aging, 1 of the factors attracting significant interest and concern is the increasing stress of modern life. One of the things we know in animals is that stress can lead to cognitive decline. In this study, higher morning cortisol levels in a large sample of people were associated with worse brain structure and cognition.”

Read: 25 Super Easy Tricks to De-Stress Right Now

Some Issues with the Study

The study does not prove causation because it was observational in nature. Additionally, researchers only measured blood cortisol levels once during the study period, which prevented them from assessing changes over time, or even each participant’s average cortisol levels. Furthermore, the study was not representative of the total U.S. population; the majority of participants were white and lived in the same general area. [1]

But the link the team uncovered still suggests that stress can alter brain structure and function in negative ways, according to Seshadri. Cortisol levels that were considered high in the study were consistent with those that adults could expect to see in day-to-day life, the researcher said.

“The fact that in this range, having a higher cortisol level was associated with the changes in brain function this early in life was both alarming and an opportunity. There’s one more strand that one can work on to reduce the public health impact of dementia. I cannot tell you for sure that lowering cortisol is going to necessarily result in benefits, but it’s a first step.”

Since stress can lead to all sorts of unpleasant symptoms, it’s worth it to reduce stress as much as possible. Activities like meditation, exercise, yoga, getting enough sleep (researchers say the world is in the grip of a “sleep crisis”), and enjoying a healthy social life can go a long way toward easing stress and protecting that brain.

Seshadri said:

“There are things that we know lower cortisol. We are expanding our understanding of the link between these lifestyle interventions and their effect on cognitive decline and dementia.”

The study is published in the journal Neurology.


[1] Time

[2] Healthline

[3] Forbes

Limiting Kids’ Screen Time Improves Cognition, Study Finds

Stop the educational YouTube videos! Well, maybe not those, but if you really want to improve your kids’ cognitive abilities, you should actually limit the amount of time they spend in front of televisions, computers, tablets, and smartphones, and make sure they get ample sleep, according to a study by Canadian researchers.

In looking at more than 4,500 children in the U.S. between the ages of 8 and 11, researchers found that the average American child gets 3.6 hours of screen time a day, an amount associated with inferior cognitive development and academic performance.

The team used the Canadian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines for Children and Youth for the study, which recommend that children get between 9 and 11 hours of uninterrupted sleep, less than 2 hours of screen time, and at least 1 hour of physical activity a day. Youngsters who met those guidelines scored highest on tests for assessing language abilities, memory, executive function, attention, and processing speed.

Read: Study Reveals Yet Another Reason to Limit Kids’ Screen Time

In the U.S., 19 out of 20 children failed to reach all of the benchmarks for sleep, screen time, and physical activity. Approximately half got the daily recommended amount of sleep; however, just 37% met the guideline for limited screen time, and a paltry 18% met the guideline for physical activity.

The researchers also accounted for other factors that can influence cognition, including: [2]

  • Household income
  • Ethnicity
  • Body mass index (BMI)
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Parental and child education levels
  • Pubertal development in mind

How the Data was Collected

As part of the project, researchers across the U.S. interviewed children and their parents about the amount of time they spent being physically active, sleeping, and using screens on the average day. Additionally, the children were given questionnaires, provided spit samples, and completed puzzles that allowed the researchers to measure their cognitive abilities. [3]

The more benchmarks a child met, the more improvements in cognition the researchers were able to track, though limiting screen time and sleep were found to have the biggest impacts. No association was found between the physical activity guideline and cognition, which may suggest that the researchers weren’t specific enough in how they measured physical activity. [1]

Dr. Jeremy Walsh, the study’s lead author and a postdoctoral fellow at the University of British Columbia, said in a press release:

“Evidence suggests that good sleep and physical activity are associated with improved academic performance, while physical activity is also linked to better reaction time, attention, memory, and inhibition.”

Walsh pointed out that the relationship between recreational screen time and cognitive development has been murky, and this type of research is still in its infancy.

How Much Screen Time?

He said: [2]

“Behaviors and day-to-day activities contribute to brain and cognitive development in children, and physical activity, sedentary behavior, and sleep might independently and collectively affect cognition.

We found that more than 2 hours of recreational screen time in children was associated with poorer cognitive development. More research into the links between screen time and cognition is now needed, including studying the effect of different types of screen time, whether content is education or entertainment, and whether it requires focus or involves multitasking.”

When it comes to screen time, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends the following:

  • When children less than 1-2 to 2 years old watch TV or use electronic devices, parents should watch and play with them.
  • Children ages 2-5 years old should have no more than 1 hour of screen time. Again, parents should watch and play with them.
  • There is no specific limit on screen time for older children, but families are encouraged to develop their own daily media limits with the help of the AAP’s online planning tool.

Read: Could Staring at a Screen Ignite Speech Delays in Toddlers?

What About Sleep

When it comes to sleep, this is how much the AAP says children need, according to age:

  • Infants 4 to 12 months – 12 to 16 hours of sleep every 24 hours (including naps).
  • Children 1 to 2 years – 11 to 14 hours of sleep every 24 hours (including naps).
  • Children 3 to 5 years – 10 to 13 hours of sleep every 24 hours (including naps).
  • Children 6 to 12 years – 9 to 12 hours of sleep every 24 hours.
  • Teens 13 to 18 years – 8 to 10 hours of sleep every 24 hours.

Smartphones, tablets, and other screens should be removed from kids’ bedrooms, as research shows that just knowing the devices are in the room can disrupt a child’s sleep.

The study is published in the journal The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health.


[1] ABC News

[2] Consumer Affairs

[3] Gizmodo

Air Pollution May be Dumbing People Down, Study Suggests

A new study suggests that air pollution may come with more health consequences than previously thought. Specifically, prolonged exposure to dirty air may have a negative impact on cognitive abilities, especially in older men.

The study found that breathing polluted air causes a “steep reduction” in verbal and math test scores.

International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) scientists looked at data from a large Chinese study that compared the cognitive test scores of almost 32,000 people over the age of 10 between 2010 and 2014 with their exposure to short- and long-term air pollution.

The team found that the more air pollution someone was exposed to, the lower their verbal and math scores fell. The decline in verbal scores was particularly pronounced in older men and people with less education. [1] [2]

People with less education were more likely to suffer cognitive decline because they tend to work outside more often and are exposed to higher levels of pollution. [2]

Study author Xiaobo Zhang of Peking University said: [1]

“The damage air pollution has on aging brains likely imposes substantial health and economic cost, considering that cognitive functioning is critical for the elderly to both running daily errands and making high-stakes economic decisions.”

Cognitive decline or impairment are potential risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. An August 2017 study found that air pollution may be to blame for 20% of all dementia cases in the U.S.

Poor developing nations often grapple with extreme levels of air pollution. The study suggests these dirty environments may hamper economic growth in the parts of the world that need it most.

Zhang said:

“The damage on cognitive ability by air pollution also likely impedes the development of human capital. Therefore, a narrow focus on the negative effect on health may underestimate the total cost of air pollution. Our findings on the damaging effect of air pollution on cognition imply that the indirect effect of pollution on social welfare could be much larger than previously thought.”

Nearly everyone on earth is exposed to pollution, with 1 out of 10 of the planet’s inhabitants breathing heavily polluted air, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Africa and Asia are the most polluted regions of the world.

In China, air pollution is so severe that the country is expected to have more than 800,000 cases of lung cancer by 2020. Over the years, smog in China has sent thousands of people to emergency departments and businesses have had to shut down in order to keep workers and minimize their exposure to toxic air.

The top 20 most-polluted cities in the world all reside in developing countries, but that doesn’t mean that developed-country dwellers are safe from the toxins swirling around in the environment. A study in January 2018 found that 75% of deaths related to air pollution in India were in rural areas. [2]

Wealthy cities are at least fortunate enough to be able to afford creative solutions to the problem of air pollution. For example, in China, vertical forests are being planted to absorb carbon dioxide and convert it into oxygen. Sadly, this does little to help people living in the rural areas of the country, where residents are struck breathing noxious air.

The team isn’t sure how air pollution causes dementia, but they theorize that it may have a negative effect on the brain’s white matter, which “coordinates communication among brain regions.”

James Hendrix, the director of Global Science Initiatives at the Alzheimer’s Association, however, said that’s purely speculation. It’s difficult to tease out a causal link between air pollution and cognitive decline.

“I would say that it probably increases your risk – how much is difficult to say.”

There might not be much you can do about your exposure to pollution, but Hendrix noted that eating healthily, getting ample physical activity, and getting enough cognitive stimulation and social interaction reduces your risk of suffering from cognitive problems.

The study appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


[1] CNN

[2] NPR

Air Pollution May be to Blame for 20% of Dementia Cases

A new study in Translational Psychiatry suggests that women who are exposed to air heavily polluted by vehicle exhaust and other sources of fine particulate matter have a significantly higher risk of developing dementia.

For the new study, researchers tracked the cognitive health of 3,647 women ages 65-79 for 10 years. All of the women were dementia-free at the beginning of the study. As part of the Women’s Health Initiative Memory Study (WHIMS), researchers assessed the participants’ cognitive function annually.

The researchers used EPA data to estimate the women’s daily particulate matter 2.5 (PM2.5) where they lived. PM2.5 are fine particles that are up to 2.5 micrometers in diameter. They are made up of solid and liquid droplets which are emitted from power plants and motor vehicles, and other sources of combustion.

Read: Toxic Nanoparticle Air Pollution Found in Human Brain Tissue

The miniscule size of PM2.5 makes them easy to inhale, and inhalation of the particles can increase the risk of heart disease, asthma, reduced lung function, and other health problems.

High Levels of Pollution, High Levels of Risk

The team found that women who live in areas exposed to high PM2.5 levels had an 81% increased risk of global cognitive decline and a 92% increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias compared to women who live in areas with low PM2.5 levels.

Researchers also looked at the brain tissue of lab mice and discovered amyloid beta protein clumps – the hallmark signature of Alzheimer’s disease – and the die-off of cells in the brain’s hippocampus, where memories are formed.

Air pollution was also shown to affect a woman’s cognitive abilities even more dramatically if she carries APOE-e4, a gene variant which puts them at higher risk for Alzheimer’s disease.

Using air pollution standards set by the EPA, researchers found major differences on all those measures between those who breathed clean air and those exposed to pollution levels deemed unsafe.

In the lab mice, breathing air collected over the 10 Freeway in Los Angeles led to denser brain concentrations of amyloid protein which were more likely to form dangerous clumps than breathing air that met EPA standards pre-2012.

Read: Toxic Air Affects 90% of World’s Population


Are we seeing this in real-time in China?

Approximately 54% of the world’s population lived in urban areas as of 2014, according to the United Nations. In China, where air pollution is extreme, more than 55% of the population live in the city.

Interestingly, a 2013 study published in the Lancet showed that the number of people in that country with Alzheimer’s disease soared from 3.7 million in 1990 to 9.2 million in 2010. These are eclipsing figures from the 2012 World Alzheimer’s Reportwhich predicted an estimated 5.4 million dementia cases in China in 2010.

Potential Legal Ramifications?

The authors of the study, geriatric and environmental health specialists at USC, estimate that prior to the 2012 air pollution standards set by the EPA, about 21% of new cases of dementia and of accelerated cognitive decline could likely have been the result of exposure to air pollution.

Here’s where things get tricky.

When the EPA devises its pollution standards, the agency is required to consider the impact they will have on the health of “vulnerable populations.” The EPA is also tasked with using its regulatory authority to protect those populations. The standards set in 2012 clearly do not adequately protect women (and mice) who are genetically predisposed to developing Alzheimer’s disease.

Though air pollution has been decreasing since 2012, Dr. Jiu-Chiuan Chen, an environmental health specialist at USC’s Keck School of Medicine and the study’s senior author, said it’s not clear that even current standards are safe for aging brains, or for brains that are genetically vulnerable to Alzheimer’s.

It would behoove the Trump administration to look over this latest study, as President Trump has indicated that it will either trash or overhaul Obama administration regulations that tightened emissions from power plants and established tougher fuel efficiency standards for cars in an effort to fight climate change and cut air pollution.

Chen said:

“If people in the current administration are trying to reduce the cost of treating diseases, including dementia, then they should know that relaxing the Clean Air Act regulations will do the opposite.”


[1] Medical News Today

[2] Los Angeles Times

Storable Food