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When we get an infection, our immune system ramps up inflammation to kill the invading pathogen.
Inflammation is a useful process when it can be turned on and off rapidly.
But some people suffer from long-term, low-grade inflammation… Researchers call this chronic inflammation.
We know that chronic inflammation increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, and cancer.
The results of a recent 20-year study show that chronic inflammation also causes damage to brain function.
Those results reinforce the importance of an anti-inflammatory diet and lifestyle.
These researchers carried out human research at the Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, and the University of Mississippi Medical Center, Jackson. They published their results in the journal Neurology.
They designed this research to look at inflammation and cognitive decline over a 20-year period.
Cognitive decline – that’s the decrease in brain function that happens as people age.
“The objective was to examine the association between systemic inflammation measured during midlife and 20-year cognitive decline.”
Everyone experiences some cognitive decline…
But many factors can determine just how much brain power we lose as we age.
This research took information from a study looking at atherosclerosis risk.
The study was large…with over 10,000 participants.
“A total of 12,336 participants (average baseline age 56) were included.”
Atherosclerosis is well known to be associated with chronic inflammation.
So the researchers tested this study’s participants for numerous measures of inflammatory markers.
“Within the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities cohort study, inflammatory biomarkers were measured during middle adulthood.”
The researchers tested their mental faculties three times over a 20-year period.
“Cognition was assessed over three visits spanning 20 years using measures of memory, executive function, and language.”
The researchers compared inflammation levels at the starting point with the degree of cognitive decline.
At the start of the study, the average age of participants was 56 years.
The researchers found an association between multiple markers of inflammation and accelerated cognitive decline over 20 years.
“Increase in midlife inflammation was associated with an additional 20-year decline on the cognitive composite score.”
One of the tests used in this study is called C-reactive protein. The C-reactive protein is one of the most basic measures of inflammation in the blood.
C-reactive protein levels were strongly predictive of cognitive decline.
People with more inflammation had faster cognitive decline.
“We found a similar association between each standard deviation increase in midlife C-reactive protein level and additional 20-year cognitive decline.”
Those with the highest levels of C-reactive protein had accelerated cognitive decline of more than 11%.
“C-reactive protein in the top quartile was associated with an 11.6% steeper cognitive decline.”
The mental tests used in this study looked at a whole host of mental faculties.
The study found that inflammation had the strongest effect on memory.
“In cognitive domain-specific analyses, elevated midlife inflammatory markers were most consistently associated with declines in memory.”
People with high levels of inflammation were more likely to die during the 20-year period – and so not complete the study.
This means that the actual effect of inflammation and cognitive decline may be even more severe.
Systemic inflammation in midlife is a significant risk factor for cognitive decline.
“Our findings highlight what may be an early pathogenic role for systemic inflammation as a driver of cognitive decline in the decades leading up to older adulthood.”
Combating systemic inflammation…
Lack of sleep and high levels of psychological stress are major players in chronic inflammation.
A little physical exercise can go a long way toward lowering inflammation.
A number of supplements and functional foods – such as ginger – can help keep chronic inflammation down.
You should always consult a healthcare practitioner about treating and diagnosing health-related problems.
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- Systemic inflammation during midlife and cognitive change over 20 years: The ARIC Study. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=Systemic+inflammation+during+midlife+and+cognitive+change+over+20+years%3A+The+ARIC+Study
- What is an inflammation? https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279298/
- Inflammation and Fever https://courses.lumenlearning.com/microbiology/chapter/inflammation-and-fever/