The one brain change that matters more than tau and plaque

When you hear about the neurological warning signs of Alzheimer’s, you usually hear about tau tangles and amyloid plaques.

Not too long ago that hypothesis came into question. One reason is that amyloid plaques are found in the brains of many elderly people with normal cognition.

But the recently FDA-approved drug lecanemab was designed to attack the β-amyloid plaque buildup in the brains of patients, and not without serious concern.

Did you know, however, there’s a different sign of impending Alzheimer’s?

One that is now thought to be the earliest sign that things could go awry — and the good news is there may be more we can do to about this one…

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What is the hippocampus?

A small, seahorse-sized area of the brain is responsible for most of your learning and memory.

It’s called the hippocampus.

The hippocampus is where your short-term memories are turned into long-term memories. It’s also where your emotions get regulated.

Without it, you wouldn’t be able to plan where to go and how to get there, an ability known as spatial navigation.

And now we know that a shrinking hippocampus is likely the first warning sign for cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s, whether the brain has been invaded by tau tangles and amyloid plaque or not.

A shrinking hippocampus precedes other signs of cognitive decline

In the Harvard Aging Brain Study, twenty researchers collected data from 128 older adults over a period of ten years (participants had no signs of cognitive impairment when the study started).

The data included participants’ performance on cognitive tests, as well as brain imaging scans to look at hippocampal volume and track whether other markers, such as tau tangles and amyloid plaques, developed.

Their findings showed that shrinkage in the hippocampus correlated with cognitive decline, even when other markers were not considered.

The faster the shrinkage occurs, the faster a person’s cognitive decline.

And, those with less hippocampal volume to start with showed even more rapid shrinkage.

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Keep your hippocampus pumped up

The hippocampus has long been reported to shrink with age. We knew that. But now we know that before any other known brain change, it appears to be the first to signal cognitive decline — with or without any help from those other biomarkers.

But there’s no need to run out and talk your doctor into a brain scan just to check it out. There’s another clue you might notice…

A 2016 study from the Mayo Clinic discovered that healthy, normal adults who were abnormally sleepy and fatigued during the day, scored lower on cognitive tests and had more brain shrinkage.

Luckily, there’s been much research into how to slow or reduce brain shrinkage — and a couple of factors have come up again and again…

Exercise is probably the most scientifically backed way to maintain brain volume and boost cognitive health. But some forms of exercise take it a step further…

Research from the Wake Forest School of Medicine found that aerobic exercise does more than just prevent brain shrinkage and cognitive decline — it actually reverses it. So it’s never too late to get started for your brain’s sake.

What if you are unable to exercise? Omega-3s have been shown to guard against the loss of brain volume. You can eat two servings of fatty fish per week or supplement with fish or krill oil. But dosage matters. Be sure to get enough to do your brain good.

Now a few years ago, the University of Edinburgh found that factors that negatively influence blood vessel health also have a big negative impact on brain shrinkage. The worst? Smoking, high blood pressure and diabetes.

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This One Isolated Brain Change May Signal Alzheimer’s, Study Finds — Science Alert

Association of Pathologic and Volumetric Biomarker Changes With Cognitive Decline in Clinically Normal Adults — Neurology

Joyce Hollman

By Joyce Hollman

Joyce Hollman is a writer based in Kennebunk, Maine, specializing in the medical/healthcare and natural/alternative health space. Health challenges of her own led Joyce on a journey to discover ways to feel better through organic living, utilizing natural health strategies. Now, practicing yoga and meditation, and working towards living in a chemical-free home, her experiences make her the perfect conduit to help others live and feel better naturally.