Deteriorating brain function is the bane of getting old. The most severe and debilitating form of cognitive decline is the development of dementia, a collective term used to describe various symptoms of cognitive decline, such as forgetfulness. The estimated proportion of the general population aged 60 and over with dementia at a given time is between 5-8%.
Dementia is not a single disease in itself, but a general term to describe symptoms of impairment in memory, communication, and thinking. Although it mostly affects older people, it is not necessarily a normal part of ageing as it can be influenced by lifestyle factors.
Boosting brain function
Sure, a regular glass of red wine has been shown to have the ability to improve cognitive function as we age. We covered this in detail in a previous blog. But so does regular exercise. Exercise has a broad range of beneficial healthful effects.
A new study published on 9 July 2020 tested the hypothesis that it might be possible to reverse brain ageing through systemic interventions such as exercise. The scientists from the University of California tested whether the beneficial effects of exercise on cognition in aged mice could be transferred in plasma from one mouse to another. Indeed, plasma from young or old mice that had exercised when transferred to other aged mice showed beneficial effects in their brains even if they had not exercised.
How is this possible?
To discover what specific biological factors in the blood might be behind these effects, the amounts of different soluble proteins in the blood of active versus sedentary mice were measured. After some intensive search, the scientists identified the enzyme glycosylphosphatidylinositol-specific phospholipase D1 (Gpld1) as a factor in plasma that might mediate this favourable effect.
Gpld1 is produced by the liver. The team found that Gpld1 increases in the blood circulation of mice following exercise, and that Gpld1 levels correlate closely with improvements in the animals’ cognitive performance.
And not only in rats!
Analysis of previously collected human data showed that Gpld1 is also elevated in the blood of healthy, active elderly adults compared to less active elders.
To test whether Gpld1 itself could drive the observed benefits of exercise, the researchers used genetic engineering to coax the livers of aged mice to produce extra Gpld1, and measured various aspects of cognition and memory. They found that three weeks of the treatment produced similar beneficial cognitive effects as six weeks of regular exercise.
The scientists are now working to better understand precisely how Gpld1 interacts with other biochemical signalling systems to produce its brain-boosting effects (as it doesn’t pass the blood/brain barrier). The hope is to be able to identify specific targets for a future food supplement with Gpld1 that could one day confer many of the protective benefits of exercise for the frail.
So what’s your choice?
So now there is a choice, red wine or exercise or maybe both to retain good cognitive function.
But the question is how much exercise is needed to get the optimal benefit. Would the recommended 10,000 steps a day be sufficient and would a glass of red wine add to the benefit?
Or, horror, would the liver be too busy to metabolise the alcohol from the red wine to have time to also produce the Gpld1?
I want to know more!