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Mature Focus: July 5

New research suggests that consuming a variety of fatty acids may benefit seniors’ brain health.

More fatty acids, please

While previous research has linked seniors’ dietary intake of certain polyunsaturated fats to better brain health, two new studies suggest that a wider range of fatty acids in the blood may also help to promote healthy aging and enhance cognitive abilities. The two studies, conducted at the University of Illinois, provide evidence that consuming both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids may help to prevent age-related deterioration of certain parts of the brain.

In both studies, the researchers looked for patterns of polyunsaturated fatty acids in the blood of adults between the ages of 65 and 75. They analyzed the relationship of these patterns to the certain structures in the brain, as well as to the seniors’ performance on cognitive tests. According to study leader Marta Zamroziewicz, the new research differs from other such studies, which were focused on the effects of just one or two polyunsaturated fatty acids.

“Most of the research that looks at these fats in health and healthy aging focuses on the omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA, but those come from fish and fish oil, and most people in the Western Hemisphere don’t eat enough of those to really see the benefits,” Zamroziewicz said. Other fatty acids included in the new studies, like alpha-linolenic acid [ALA] and stearidonic acid, can come from land-based foods such as nuts, seeds and oils and are precursors of  DHA and EPA in the body.

In one study, the researchers looked at the brain’s frontoparietal network, which tends to decline early in the aging process and plays a key role in a person’s fluid intelligence, meaning the ability to solve problems one has never encountered before. They found that, with higher intake of three omega-3 fatty acids – ALA, stearidonic acid and ecosatrienoic acid – study participants tended to both have larger frontoparietal areas and to perform better on tests of fluid intelligence.

In a separate study, the team examined the white matter structure of the fornix, a group of nerve fibers at the brain’s center that is important for memory, and has been shown to be among the first brain regions to be affected in Alzheimer’s disease. They found that a balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in the participants’ blood was related to the volume of the fornix area, as well as higher performance on memory tests. Both studies, they said, show correlations between a balanced fatty acid intake, healthier brain structures and better cognitive skills.

“These findings have important implications for the Western diet, which tends to be misbalanced with high amounts of omega-6 fatty acids and low amounts of omega-3 fatty acids,” Zamroziewicz said. Findings of the two studies were reported in the journals Nutritional Neuroscience and Aging & Disease.


Research has discovered anti-aging skin benefits of a commonly used chemical called methylene blue.

New [old] anti-aging miracle?

A common, inexpensive chemical that has long served a number of medical, scientific and even animal purposes could soon become a key ingredient in anti-aging skin products. Methylene blue, first used as a treatment for malaria in the 1800s, is used today as a staining agent in biology and chemistry, as well as a treatment for urinary tract infections, septic shock and many other medical purposes. Among fish tank hobbyists, it’s also used to prevent diseases and treat fungal infections in tropical fish.

Now, the antioxidant has been shown to prevent and even reverse skin aging. University of Maryland researchers recently tested methylene blue in cultured human skin cells and simulated skin tissue with impressive results.

The researchers tested methylene blue for four weeks in skin cells from healthy middle-aged donors, along with people diagnosed with progeria, a genetic disease that greatly accelerates the aging process. They found that methylene blue improved several age-related symptoms in the cells from both groups. Senior author Kan Cao and her colleagues also tested methylene blue in skin fibroblast cells – cells that produce the structural protein collagen – taken from donors over the age of 80, which also showed a wide range of improvements. Finally, they used simulated human skin, a three-dimensional model they created from living skin cells, which includes all the major layers and structures of skin tissue.

“This system allowed us to test a range of aging symptoms that we can’t replicate in cultured cells alone,” Cao said. “The effects we are seeing are not temporary. Methylene blue appears to make fundamental, long-term changes to skin cells. Most surprisingly, we saw that model skin treated with methylene blue retained more water and increased in thickness – both of which are features typical of younger skin.”

The researchers also used the model skin to test the safety of cosmetic creams with methylene blue added. Their results suggest that methylene blue causes little to no irritation, even at high concentrations. The study was published online in the journal Scientific Reports.


Call for action on osteoporosis

Approximately 1.5 million Americans suffer bone fractures related to osteoporosis each year, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information. Early diagnosis of the bone-thinning condition, along with preventive care to head off the fractures it causes, are widely available to patients. However, too few patients actually get bone density testing to screen for the disease, nor do they understand its risk factors or fully comply with treatment plans – facts that researchers at the University of Missouri School of Medicine pointed out following a recent review of options for osteoporosis treatment and management.

“A fracture is the only true symptom of osteoporosis, and typically, that’s how the disease is diagnosed,” said Brett Crist, M.D., associate professor of orthopedic surgery and the review’s senior author. “Knowing risk factors – age, gender and family history – allows us to screen for osteoporosis and prevent complications. However, in our review, we found that preventable complications, such as secondary fractures, are more common than they should be. The reality is that death and disability associated with osteoporosis affect more people than most cancers.”

Crist pointed out that, although the risk of decreased bone density leading to osteoporosis starts at age 50, less than 27 percent of patients ages 65 to 79 are screened for the disease, with even lower screening rates for people above and below that age range. Once it is diagnosed, the high cost of newer, more desirable medications to treat osteoporosis prevents people from using them, while older, less costly medications have more side effects and are more difficult to take – so patients don’t take them properly, he added. And the effectiveness of calcium and vitamin D, which have long been commonly prescribed by doctors to manage osteoporosis, is now being called into question.

The university’s review shows that physicians need to have conversations with every patient over 50 about recent advances in osteoporosis treatment and management, Crist said.

“Patients sometimes view osteoporosis as part of the normal aging process. However, they take a significant risk if they don’t fully understand the consequences of their diagnosis. The development of an interdisciplinary care plan that meets the expectations and needs of the patient is the goal.”


On the calendar

Living a Healthy Life with Chronic Conditions, a program presented by OASIS, begins on Tuesday, July 11 and continues each subsequent Tuesday through Aug. 22 from 1:30-4 p.m. at the McClay Branch Library, 2760 McClay Road in St. Charles. Developed by Stanford University’s Patient Education Research Center, this self-management course is for those with chronic conditions such as heart disease, arthritis, diabetes, asthma, bronchitis, emphysema or others. The program is free, but registration is required. To register, visit www.bjcstcharlescounty.org or call (636) 928-9355.

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Free osteoporosis screenings are offered from 10 a.m.-noon on Friday, July 14 at the Corporate Parkway Branch Library, 1200 Corporate Parkway in Wentzville. Take part in this bone density screening for women to determine your personal risk and find out how to decrease the risk of developing osteoporosis. Preregistration is required. Register online at www.bjcstcharlescounty.org or by calling (636) 928-9355.

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Fit for Function, a course for seniors presented by OASIS, is offered from 1:30-3:30 p.m. on Tuesday, July 18 at Progress West Hospital, 2 Progress Point Parkway in O’Fallon, in Conference Room B. Learn about the new research proving how basic strength training can reverse muscle loss, and receive a functional fitness screening to find out whether you pass the test based on national norms. Arrive 30 minutes early if you would like to participate in the screening. There is no cost to attend. Registration is required by visiting www.bjcstcharlescounty.org or by calling (636) 928-9355.

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Welcome to Medicare, an informational session focused on topics important to people who will soon be eligible to enroll in Medicare for the first time, is offered from 1-3 p.m. on Wednesday, July 19 at Progress West Hospital, 2 Progress Point Parkway in O’Fallon, in Conference Room B. Participants will receive an overview of Medicare Parts A & B, the Prescription Drug Plan [part D], Advantage Plans and Supplemental Plans [Medigap]. Additional topics to be discussed include free Medicare Preventive and Wellness Services, along with financial assistance programs such as the Medicare Savings Program and the Low Income Subsidy [Extra Help]. The course is presented by OASIS. Attendance is free, but registration is required and is available online at www.bjcstcharlescounty.org or by calling (636) 928-9355.

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