Marker of inflammation associated with memory decline
A presentation on April 13, 2011 at the American Academy of Neurology's annual meeting in Honolulu revealed the finding of researchers at the University of California, San Francisco of a link between higher levels of C-reactive protein (CRP, a marker of inflammation) and memory loss in older individuals.
University of California, San Francisco clinical professor of neuropsychology Joel H. Kramer, PsyD and his associates compared 76 men and women with an average age of 71.8 who had detectable levels of C-reactive protein to 65 adults of a similar age with undetectable levels. Word list testing evaluated the participants' verbal recall, and magnetic resonance imaging of the brain measured the volume of the medial temporal lobe, including the hippocampus, entorhinal cortex and parahippocampal cortex. (Animal experiments have revealed that function of the hippocampus, which is involved in memory storage, is impaired by prolonged brain inflammation.)
Men and women with detectable CRP levels had smaller medial temporal lobes and decreased verbal recall compared to those whose levels were undetectable. "These findings support our working model by associating brain inflammation with alterations in brain structure and cognition," the authors write.
It is not known whether the increased inflammation revealed by CRP is a cause of the memory loss observed in this study or if it indicates the presence of another disease process. If confirmed as a causative factor in cognitive decline, simple treatments could be used to combat the condition. "Anti-inflammatory drugs available today could be used to treat low grade infections in the brain, and could be used more aggressively following surgery, which prompts a large inflammatory response," Dr Kramer remarked.
The researchers plan to monitor the current study's subjects for the remainder of their lives and to evaluate additional markers of inflammation. "We think such a study will give us a better idea of what's driving the processes we've observed," Dr Kramer stated. "If baseline levels of inflammatory markers predict change over time, we'd consider a clinical trial using anti-inflammatory drugs to treat inflammation."
Dr Kramer's team is also considering the effect of cardiovascular risk factors on memory loss in normally aging adults. "We're also just starting to look at exercise, and want to study sleep," he added.
Researchers have discovered multiple factors that influence our ability to think and remember as we age. These include well-known culprits such as alcohol abuse, and also newly discovered causes of mental decline, including chronic inflammation, vascular diseases, and even stress.
The theory linking inflammation to cognitive decline is relatively new, but it appears to be consistent with our increasing understanding of the damage of chronic inflammation (as measured by C-reactive protein or interleukin-6 levels). Various studies have examined the association between inflammation and mild cognitive impairment and found compelling evidence. For example, one study of 2632 participants (mean age: 74 years) found that people who had both metabolic syndrome and high inflammation levels were more likely to experience cognitive impairment than were patients who suffered from neither. Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of abnormalities including high blood pressure, high insulin levels, obesity, and abnormal blood lipid levels. It is closely associated with increased risk of heart attack and stroke. In contrast, those with metabolic syndrome and low inflammation were not at increased risk of mild cognitive impairment (Yaffe K et al 1998).
Bacopa monniera is an Ayurvedic medicinal herb that has been used clinically for enhancing memory and ameliorating epilepsy and insomnia and as a mild sedative. The antioxidant role of Bacopa may help explain its reported antistress, immunomodulatory, cognition-facilitating, anti-inflammatory, and antiaging effects (Russo A et al 2003; Kidd PM 1999).
A study measured Bacopa’s ability to enhance memory and reduce anxiety in 76 adults between 40 and 65 years of age. A significant effect of Bacopa was shown in the retention of new information (Roodenrys S et al 2002). Another trial examined the chronic effects of Bacopa on cognitive function in healthy human participants. The participants were randomly assigned to receive either 300 mg bacopa or placebo. The results showed significant improvement in speed of visual information processing, learning rate, memory consolidation, and anxiety compared with the placebo group. Maximal effects were evident after 12 weeks (Stough C et al 2001).
Although researchers haven’t yet examined anti-inflammatories such as ginger and rosemary in the context of mild cognitive impairment, we believe natural nutrients may play a role in cognitive health. It is always better to be safe than sorry and to reduce inflammation as much as possible. There are many positive benefits to reducing inflammation besides perhaps lowering the risk of cognitive decline.
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