If you want to keep your brain young and sharp – and who wouldn’t – what should you feed it?
I’ve written many times about the benefits of the Mediterranean diet, which is rich in fruits, vegetables, oily fish, olive oil and nuts – and now yet another study, published two weeks ago, has found that people who follow it eat less of it. the amyloid plaques and tau tangles in their brains associated with Alzheimer’s disease than those who don’t.
But how about branching out and trying something completely different – how about feeding your brain with nutrients from someone else’s blood?
Although controversial, there is growing evidence of the benefits that come from infusing young people with blood, and I’ve recently seen some of those benefits firsthand.
Human blood is extraordinary stuff. It is packed with cells that support, protect and regenerate our body.
Human blood is packed with cells that support, protect and regenerate our bodies, with transfusions saving millions of lives
There is growing evidence of the benefits of infusing young people with blood, 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, the sick, especially those with epilepsy, were encouraged to go to gladiator fights to try to drink the blood of a freshly killed gladiator.
And then, of course, there’s the legend of Count Dracula, who feeds on human blood and transforms himself from a little 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 you infuse an old mouse with blood from a young mouse, it makes their body stronger and their brain younger: they run longer on a treadmill, do better in mazes and can find their way to food much faster than before the blood transfusion.
Spookily enough, the reverse is also true. Transfuse blood from an old mouse into a young mouse and they become weaker and show signs of premature amnesia.
Tech billionaires in the US have jumped on these findings and funded research into what it is about young blood that causes these changes. And understandably, that worries a lot of people.
Last summer, while filming in the US for a series about aging, I saw a TV drama called Blood Boy, which depicts a future where billionaires keep handsome young men – “transfusion associates” – on hand for regular infusions of anti-aging blood .
Defeating the obesity paradox
The UK is getting fatter and unhealthier, with more and more people developing serious conditions such as heart disease.
But in what’s been called 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 Boulder, has shown that such findings are biased by using BMI – which doesn’t reflect your body fat or how long you’ve been overweight (the damage caused by being overweight accumulates over time) .
When he put the numbers back together 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 journey, I also saw some of the potential benefits of young blood transfusions, when used in a medical context, when I met Terri, a 63-year-old Californian with Parkinson’s disease.
A few years ago, she participated in a trial led by Stanford University where Parkinson’s patients received plasma transfusions (the liquid part of your blood) donated by young volunteers, ie under the age of 30, twice a week.
It was just a small study (with 15 participants), lasting eight weeks, to see if doing regular transfusions is safe enough to warrant a larger trial, yet it led to improvements in speech and an improvement in mental health.
As Terri told me, “I felt more energized afterward. I felt more normal, back to myself. Not the Parkinson’s itself, but my old self. So I loved that.’
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 studies are often men under the age of 30, because their stem cells (master cells that can turn into a range of other cells) are more powerful – 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 practical, let alone ethical. So the quest has begun to identify and replicate the beneficial components without having to use actual blood.
A few weeks ago, Harvard University researchers 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 for regulating stress, injury and inflammation, especially in the brain, so it appears that the benefits of the transfusions come from altering these genes.
And that ties in with the results of another study, published in February by American scientists, which showed that when mice are given an anti-inflammatory drug, which is often given to people with arthritis, it helps regenerate their blood-producing cells.
So there’s a lot of promising research going on, although there’s still some way to go before we really understand what young blood does to our brains.
In the meantime, I’ve warned my kids that I can come over and ask for some of their plasma if I start to get really dizzy. The four of them should make it.
Eyes really ARE a window to the soul
A study has shown that measuring the way people’s pupils expand and contract can be used to measure their emotional intelligence
When I was a spotty teen I read an article that said you could tell if a girl liked you 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 manically into someone’s eyes is unlikely to lead to a successful outcome.
That said, a study published this month in the journal Scientific Reports found that measuring the way people’s pupils expand and contract is a surprisingly effective measure of their emotional intelligence.
The study measured participants’ pupil sizes while listening to a taped story – this showed that some people are “super-synchronizers,” so well 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 in which people have difficulty communicating.
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 constrict and dilate in time with the other person’s, and that makes you more interesting – a tip that would have been useful to me 50 years ago.
Need to de-stress? Try petting a cat
A recent study found that cats are rated very highly as a stress buster, especially if you are “very stressed.”
Anyone who has a dog knows that they are a great stress buster – and there’s a lot of evidence to back that up.
For example, a study in the journal Academic Emergency Medicine showed that five minutes of petting a dog, or just hanging out, was enough to lower levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, in emergency room personnel.
But what about cats? They appear much more distant, which is one of the reasons why they rarely appear in stress reduction studies.
Still, a recent survey of more than 1,200 people in Belgium found that cats are actually rated very highly as a stress buster, especially if you’re “very stressed.”
I can identify with that. We used to have a Siamese cat named Finn who has reached the ripe old age of 19.
While our dog Tari has always preferred my wife, Clare (she’s the one who feeds her), Finn sought me out and crawled into my lap, purring merrily as he allowed himself to be petted before leaving – which made me feel very happy .
But pet a cat that doesn’t want to be petted, and it can get pretty hissing. When it comes to human-cat interactions, cats have the upper hand.