Reduced Alzheimer's risk may be a side benefit of socializing
Also: Vitamin D and diabetes; resveratrol and anxiety
September 1, 2019
Enlarging your circle of friends
Being more socially active in your 50s and 60s appears to predict a lower risk of developing dementia later in life, according to a new British study. Researchers used data from the Whitehall II study, tracking 10,228 participants who had been asked on six occasions between 1985 and 2013 about their frequency of social contact with friends and relatives. The same participants also completed cognitive testing, which started in 1997, and researchers referred to the study subjects’ electronic health records up until 2017 to see if they were ever diagnosed with dementia.
The researchers focused on the relationships between social contact at age 50, 60 and 70, and subsequent incidence of dementia, and whether social contact was linked to cognitive decline, after accounting for other factors such as education, employment, marital status and socioeconomic status. They found that increased social contact at age 60 is associated with a significantly lower risk of developing dementia later in life. The analysis showed that someone who saw friends almost daily at age 60 was 12% less likely to develop dementia than someone who only saw one or two friends every few months.
The researchers found similarly strong associations between social contact at ages 50 and 70 and subsequent dementia. The researchers say that social contact at any age may well have a similar impact on reducing dementia risk.
“People who are socially engaged are exercising cognitive skills such as memory and language, which may help them to develop cognitive reserve. While it may not stop their brains from changing, cognitive reserve could help people cope better with the effects of age and delay any symptoms of dementia,” said senior author Professor Gill Livingston, who is with London’s Global University in England.
Previous studies have found a link between social contact and dementia risk, but they did not have such long follow-up times, and so they could not rule out the possibility that the beginnings of cognitive decline may have been causing people to see fewer people, rather than the other way around. The long follow-up in the current study strengthens the evidence that social engagement could protect individuals from dementia in the long run.
Vitamin D supplementation may slow progression of type 2 diabetes
Vitamin D supplementation may help slow the progression of type 2 diabetes in newly diagnosed patients and those with prediabetes, according to a study published in the European Journal of Endocrinology. The study findings suggest that high-dose supplementation of vitamin D can improve glucose metabolism to help prevent the development and progression of diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes is an increasingly prevalent disease that places a huge burden on patients and society and can lead to serious health problems including nerve damage, blindness and kidney failure. People at high risk of developing type 2 diabetes (prediabetes) can be identified by several risk factors including obesity or a family history of the disease. Although low vitamin D levels have previously been associated with an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes, studies have been conflicting.
In this study, Dr. Claudia Gagnon, and colleagues from Université Laval in Quebec, Canada, examined the effect of vitamin D supplementation on glucose metabolism in patients newly diagnosed with type 2 diabetes or identified as at high risk of developing the condition. Markers of insulin function and glucose metabolism were measured before and after six months of high-dose vitamin D supplementation (approximately 5 to 10 times the recommended dose). Although only 46% of study participants were determined to have low vitamin D levels at the start of the study, supplementation with vitamin D significantly improved the action of insulin in muscle tissue of participants after six months.
“The reason we saw improvements in glucose metabolism following vitamin D supplementation in those at high risk of diabetes, or with newly diagnosed diabetes, while other studies failed to demonstrate an effect in people with long-standing type 2 diabetes, is unclear. This could be due to the fact that improvements in metabolic function are harder to detect in those with longer-term disease or that a longer treatment time is needed to see the benefits,” said Dr. Gagnon.
She said type 2 diabetes and prediabetes are a growing public health concern and although these new study results are promising, further studies are required to identify whether some people may benefit more from this intervention.
Resveratrol may help combat anxiety
If you are someone who likes to unwind with a glass of red wine after a stressful day, don’t give alcohol all the credit. New research is suggesting that the plant compound resveratrol, which is found in red wine, displays anti-stress effects by blocking the expression of an enzyme related to the control of stress in the brain. The findings shed light onto how resveratrol impacts neurological processes. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, depression and anxiety disorders affect 16 and 40 million people respectively in the United States.
“Resveratrol may be an effective alternative to drugs for treating patients suffering from depression and anxiety disorders,” said study investigator Dr. Ying Xu, who is a research associate professor in the University at Buffalo School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences. Resveratrol, which has been linked to a number of health benefits, is a compound found in the skin and seeds of grapes and berries. While research has identified resveratrol to have antidepressant effects, the compound’s relationship to phosphodiesterase 4 (PDE4), an enzyme influenced by the stress hormone corticosterone, was unknown.
Corticosterone regulates the body’s response to stress. However, too much stress can lead to excessive amounts of the hormone circulating in the brain and, ultimately the development of depression or other mental disorders. These unknown physiological relationships make drug therapy complex. Current antidepressants instead focus on serotonin or noradrenaline function in the brain, but only one-third of patients with depression enter full remission in response to these medications, according to Dr. Xu.
John Schieszer is an award-winning national journalist and radio and podcast broadcaster of The Medical Minute. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.