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Hedging against Alzheimer's
by Linda Egenes
Transcendental Meditation for Women - Blog Translate This Article
14 May 2014
In January of 2009 both my parents were diagnosed with ''dementia of the Alzheimer's kind'' on the same day. I was expecting such a diagnosis for my mother, who was suffering from short-term memory loss (and who had a history of Alzheimer's in the family). But the diagnosis for my father? My siblings and I were stunned. At 84 he had slowed down, for sure, but we had attributed his sudden disinterest in yard work and taking care of his finances to an infection that he was fighting.
In the following months, as my father's mental condition declined precipitously, my sister and I scrambled to rearrange our lives to give our parents the care that they needed. And as we talked endlessly about what had caused this, we found out that there was also Alzheimer's in my father's family—his mother had been diagnosed with what they termed then as ''hardening of the arteries''—with symptoms that today would likely be classified as dementia of the Alzheimer's kind.
Needless to say, with a history of Alzheimer's on both sides of my family tree, prevention is on my mind. So I was interested to see a new research study that, to me, points toward stress relief as a way to hedge our bets against this debilitating disease.
The landmark study on Alzheimer's, conducted at Harvard Medical School and published in Nature, pinpoints a protective protein in the prefrontal cortex (called, interestingly enough, REST) that switches on in the aging pre-frontal cortex in healthy people—but fails to switch on in those with Alzheimer's. This, the researchers believe, could explain why some people with the amyloid plaques and brain tangles associated with the Alzheimer's brain have no symptoms of dementia. Researchers have long suspected that another factor was involved, and these researchers think it's the REST protein that provides the missing link.
Here's what caught my eye: The protective REST protein is switched on as part of the brain's stress response.
''Our work raises the possibility that the abnormal protein aggregates associated with Alzheimer's and other neurodegenerative diseases may not be sufficient to cause dementia; you may also need a failure of the brain's stress response system,'' said Bruce Yankner, Harvard Medical School professor of genetics and leader of the study, in an article by Shelley Emling in the Huffington Post.
So in other words, the onset of Alzheimer's could be related to a failed stress response, which is often caused by chronic stress.
This makes sense to me.
Researchers already know that when a person is under stress, the prefrontal cortex, which is involved in decision-making, planning and coordinating functions, becomes less able to engage with the demands of the environment. It's as if it goes ''offline.'' Loss of memory, impaired cognitive functioning, inability to make decisions, ADHD and a host of other mental deficits are symptoms.
One of the best ways to protect the pre-frontal cortex from stress, research is finding, is the daily practice of the Transcendental Meditation technique. Practicing TM not only reduces day-to-day stress, it breaks the cycle of chronic stress and fatigue. And while stress takes the pre-frontal cortex offline, TM has an enlivening effect, switching it on, in effect.
Global Good News will feature the second part of Linda Egenes's recent article about the role of stress in the development of ''dementia of the Alzheimer's kind'' and the potentially protective effects of Transcendental Meditation against this debilitating disease.
Source: Transcendental Meditation for Women Blog
Linda Egenes writes about green and healthy living and is the author of six books, including Super Healthy Kids: A Parent's Guide to Maharishi Ayurveda, co-authored with Kumuda Reddy, M.D.
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