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Has a Big Reason for "Senior Moments" Finally Been Uncovered?

A study published in the December 2008 issue of the journal Annals of Neurology found that increases in blood sugar levels as you age may be a significant contributor to cognitive decline.

According to researchers from the Columbia University Medical Center in New York, the findings suggest that exercising in order to control blood sugar levels may be one way for seniors to prevent age related cognitive decline and memory loss.

The study included 240 seniors with an average age of 80. None of the participants were suffering from neuro-degenerative disease like dementia and 60 of them had been diagnosed with type-2 diabetes.

For the study, researchers used a new high-resolution magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to map out specific areas of the hippocampus. This area of the brain is part of the limbic system which controls memory and learning. In Alzheimer's patients, the hippocampus region is one of the first to be affected.

The researchers knew from previous studies that decreased function in a specific part of the hippocampus - called the dentate gyrus - is a significant contributor to cognitive decline. This is likely because the dentate gyrus is thought to be responsible for the formation of memories.

Building on those previous findings, the researchers wanted to identify how physiological measures that change as you age (like blood sugar levels, body mass index, cholesterol and insulin levels) would affect that specific part of the brain.

Analyzing the MRIs, researchers found that rising blood sugar levels was the only physiological factor that appeared to have an impact on the dentate gyrus. In fact, the study results showed that blood glucose seemed to selectively target only the dentate gyrus of the hippocampus.

The researchers note that there have been a number of theories regarding the underlying reasons for hippocampal dysfunction as we age. This study may provide some genuine evidence that one of the contributing factors could be that rising blood glucose levels inhibit dentate gyrus function. That, in turn, could lead to hippocampal dysfunction and cognitive decline.

Neuro-degenerative diseases are crippling in many ways and often rob both victims and families of precious years. That's why results like these are especially important. The findings suggest that taking steps to reduce blood glucose levels may protect you from age related cognitive decline.

There are a number of ways to reduce blood glucose levels and promote a healthy brain. Exercising and maintaining a diet low in sugar - and sugar substitutes - are both important steps. Both have been shown to help control blood sugar levels and have also been associated with other health benefits like better cardiovascular function, lower blood sugar and cholesterol and a reduced risk for diabetes.
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