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Anemia tied to increased risk of dementia

August 5, 2013

An estimated 23 percent of adults 65 and older have anemia, which is a condition that occurs when there is a reduction in oxygen-carrying red blood cells in the body. Anemia can cause a number of side effects ranging from fatigue and loss of energy to difficulty concentrating and dizziness. Now, a new study from the University of California, San Francisco suggests anemia may be tied to the development of Alzheimer's disease and dementia.

The findings
The study, which was published in the journal Neurology, followed approximately 2,500 participants aged 70 and older over the course of 10 years. At the beginning of the trials, subjects underwent testing for both cognitive function and anemia. The testing continued throughout the next decade. By the end of the study, researchers determined that seniors who had anemia at the beginning of the trial were about 41 percent more likely to develop dementia. Experts say there might be a number of reasons for the relationship.

"There are several explanations for why anemia may be linked to dementia," said study author Dr. Kristine Yaffe. "For example, anemia may be a marker for poor health in general, or low oxygen levels resulting from anemia may play a role in the connection. Reductions in oxygen to the brain have been shown to reduce memory and thinking abilities and may contribute to damage to neurons,"

Diet and brain health
Anemia has a number of causes, but one of the main reasons is iron deficiency. According to the Mayo Clinic, if your body does not have enough iron, it cannot produce an adequate amount of hemoglobin for red blood cells. As such, the findings suggest another link between one's diet and the brain's healthy aging. According to the Alzheimer's Association, foods high in naturally occurring antioxidants are an essential part of a brain-healthy diet. For instance, dark-skinned fruits and vegetables such as eggplant, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and blackberries are all good options.

Eating fruits and vegetables are just one aspect of a healthy lifestyle for seniors. Nuts, such as almonds, pecans and walnuts, are also important because they're good sources of vitamin E and omega-3 fatty acids, the Alzheimer's Association notes. Salmon, tuna and trout are also smart choices.