If you want to keep your brain young and strong, and who doesn’t, what should you feed it?
I have written many times before about the benefits of the Mediterranean diet, which is rich in fruits, vegetables, oily fish, olive oil and nuts, and now another study, published a fortnight ago, has found that people who follow it have fewer plaques. amyloid and tau tangles in their brains that are linked to Alzheimer’s disease than those who do not have them.
But how about branching out and trying something very different? How about allowing your brain to feast on nutrients taken from someone else’s blood?
Although controversial, there is growing evidence of the benefits to be derived from infusing the blood of young people, and I have recently seen some of those benefits firsthand.
Human blood is something extraordinary. It is full of cells that support, protect and regenerate our bodies.
Human blood is packed with cells that sustain, protect and regenerate our bodies, and blood transfusions save millions of lives.
There is growing evidence of the benefits to be derived from infusing the blood of young people, writes Dr. Michael Mosley
Blood transfusions from healthy donors have saved millions of lives, and now new research suggests that injections of young blood in particular have the potential to repair our aging brains.
The idea that blood has magical properties is not new. In Roman times, sufferers, especially epileptics, were encouraged to go to gladiatorial combat to try and drink the blood of a freshly killed gladiator.
And there is, of course, the legend of Count Dracula, who feeds on human blood and transforms from a white-haired old man into a dark-haired super-athlete. Surprisingly, there seems to be some science to this.
Studies with mice have shown that if old mice are infused with blood taken from young mice, their bodies become stronger and their brains younger: they run longer on a treadmill, do better in mazes, and can remember the way to food much faster than they could before the blood transfusion.
Spookily, the opposite is also true. Transfuse blood from an old mouse to a young mouse and they become weaker and show signs of early memory loss.
Tech billionaires in the US have seized on these findings and have been funding research into what it is about young blood that is driving these changes. And understandably, that worries a lot of people.
Last summer, when I was in the US filming a series on aging, I saw a TV drama called Blood Boy that imagines a future in which billionaires keep handsome young “transfusion partners” available for infusions. regular antiaging blood .
Overcoming the obesity paradox
The UK is becoming fatter and less healthy, with increasing numbers of people developing serious illnesses such as heart disease.
But in what’s been dubbed the obesity paradox, studies have shown that being overweight (unless you’re severely obese) has surprisingly little effect on your chances of dying prematurely and may, in fact, be protective.
Now Professor Ryan Masters, a sociologist at the University of Colorado at Boulder, has shown that such findings have been skewed by using BMI, which does not reflect body fat or how long you have been heavy (the damage caused by being overweight). accumulates over time).
When he recalculated the numbers with this in mind, there was no obesity paradox: Once outside the healthy range, the higher the BMI, the worse the health outcomes.
Is it a grotesque idea? Certainly. But on that same trip I also saw some of the potential benefits of transfusions of young blood, when used in a medical context, when I met Terri, a 63-year-old Californian with Parkinson’s disease.
A few years ago, he participated in a trial, led by Stanford University, in which Parkinson’s patients received transfusions of plasma (the liquid part of the blood) twice a week donated by young volunteers, that is, those under 30 years of age.
It was just a small study (with 15 participants), conducted over eight weeks, to see if doing regular transfusions is safe enough to warrant a larger trial, but it still led to improvements in speech and a boost in mental health .
As Terri told me, ‘Afterward I felt more energetic. I felt more normal, back to myself. Not the Parkinson’s me, but the old me. That, to me, was wonderful.
Other studies are now looking at whether transfusion of young plasma can help with other common brain diseases, such as dementia.
The preferred donors in these trials are usually men under the age of 30, because their stem cells (master cells that can become a variety of other cells) are more potent, and when it comes to things like bone marrow transplantation, this can lead to better clinical outcomes. .
Giving regular transfusions of young blood to older people is clearly not going to be practical, let alone ethical. Therefore, the search continues to identify and replicate the beneficial components without the need to use real blood.
A few weeks ago, researchers at Harvard University took a big step forward by revealing that they had identified many of the key genes that are turned on or off after a plasma transfusion.
The genes they identified are important in regulating stress, injury and inflammation, particularly in the brain, so it appears that the benefits of transfusions come from altering these genes.
And that fits with the results of another study, published in February by US scientists, which showed that when mice are given an inflammatory drug, commonly given to people with arthritis, it helps regenerate their blood-forming cells.
So there is a lot of promising research underway, although there is still a long way to go before we really understand what young blood is doing to our brains.
In the meantime, I’ve warned my kids that I can go up to them and ask for some of their plasma when I start to get really restless. Between the four of them, they should be able to manage.
The eyes really ARE a window to the soul.
A study has shown that measuring the way your pupils expand and contract can be used to measure your emotional intelligence.
When I was a pimple teenager, I read an article that said you could tell if you liked a girl by the size of her pupils: they would dilate to show she was interested.
Of course, this is not a foolproof test, and trying to judge pupil size in a busy pub by staring into someone’s eyes is unlikely to lead to a successful result.
That said, a study published this month in the journal Scientific Reports has shown that measuring the way people’s pupils expand and contract is a surprisingly effective measure of their emotional intelligence.
In the study, the size of the participants’ pupils was measured while they were listening to a story on a tape; this showed that some people are “super-synchronizers”, so attuned to the emotional content of a story that their pupils expand and contract with it. The hope is that this research will lead to new insights into autism and other conditions where people struggle to communicate.
It can also help people’s love lives, as the same researchers have shown that making and breaking eye contact, a popular form of flirting, causes your pupils to contract and expand at the same time as the other person’s. , and that makes you seem more interesting: a piece of advice that would have been useful to me 50 years ago.
Do you need to de-stress? Try petting a cat
A recent survey has found that cats rank highly as anti-stress, especially if you’re “very stressed.”
Anyone who owns a dog knows that it’s a great stress reliever, and there’s plenty of evidence to back it up.
A study in the journal Academic Emergency Medicine, for example, showed that five minutes of petting a dog, or just having it around, was enough to lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol in A&E staff.
But what about cats? They seem so much more distant, which is one of the reasons why they rarely show up in studies looking at stress reduction.
However, a recent survey of more than 1,200 people in Belgium found that cats actually rate highly as stress relievers, especially if you’re “very stressed.”
I can identify with that. We had a Siamese cat named Finn, who lived to be 19 years old.
While our dog Tari has always favored my wife, Clare (she’s the one who feeds him), Finn would find me and curl up in my lap, purring happily as he allowed himself to be petted before leaving, leaving me very happy. .
But pet a cat that doesn’t want to be petted, and it can get pretty annoying. When it comes to human-cat interactions, cats have the upper paw.