Health | Our brains grow. Does this help prevent dementia?

About 3 million years ago, our brains grew larger, helping us master all the pieces from cave painting to particle physics.

Now we’re in a contemporary growth spurt.

A brand new study by researchers at UC Davis Health found that the brains of individuals born within the Seventies had 6.6% greater volume and nearly 15% greater brain surface area than those of individuals born within the Thirties years were born.

“We found that the brain gets bigger every ten years,” said neurologist Dr. Charles DeCarli, principal investigator of the study, in a recent issue of the journal JAMA Neurology. It was based on an evaluation of hundreds of volunteers within the famous Framingham Heart Study.

This doesn't prove we're getting smarter, although other studies suggest this trend. In the human brain, size isn't all the pieces; The cabling can be vital.

However, based on DeCarli, larger brains could increase so-called “mental reserve” and potentially reduce the general risk of age-related dementia. Perhaps this explains the recent decline in the proportion of individuals affected by Alzheimer's disease. as reported within the New England Journal of Medicine 2016.

“It could harbor more connections that help organize the brain and make it more resilient, leading to a better ability to withstand aging,” he said.

The Framingham Heart Study, over seven a long time old, stores data on hundreds of individuals living in Framingham, Massachusetts. It is the longest-running and most comprehensive project of its kind in medical history.

To study brain changes, Davis scientists didn't measure the squishy, ​​three-pound lump inside each human skull. Rather, they measured brain scans of three,226 people, which were created using MRI and painlessly visualize the structure of the brain. The MRIs were performed between 1999 and 2019 on greater than 3,000 healthy Framingham residents who were born between the Thirties and Seventies and had a mean age of about 57 years.

They then compared the photographs of individuals from three different eras: the silent generation of the Thirties, the infant boomers of the Fifties and Generation X born within the Seventies.

Their evaluation revealed that the quantity and surface area of ​​the brain weren’t the one regions that grew over time. Two other key areas – the white matter, which comprises connective fibers and transmits nerve signals, and the hippocampus, which processes memory – also grew by 5.7% to 7.7%.

The increase in white matter suggests that brain cells are more connected to one another, DeCarli said.

The increase can’t be explained by the expansion of the remaining of the body. People born within the Thirties had a mean height of 66 inches, in comparison with 67.6 inches for those born within the Seventies. But even after adjusting for body size, their brains were larger.

While there was a gradual increase in IQ test scores across generations—about 3 points per decade—this may occasionally be on account of improvements in education, life experiences, and test-taking, fairly than intelligence. It's difficult to check the intelligence of various generations, DeCarli said.

Scientists have long studied the evolutionary history of our brains to know how and once they grew to enable the event of sophisticated skills. The human brain is gigantic in relation to our body size. It is 3 times larger than that of chimpanzees, our closest living relatives. It also has special anatomical features.

At a vital time in human evolution, around 3 to 4 million years ago, the scale of the human brain increased dramatically. A set of three nearly an identical genes appears to play a vital role on this development, based on a study by David Haussler, professor of biomolecular engineering and scientific director of the UC Santa Cruz Genomics Institute. Other mutations could also prove vital.

Early hominins like and have relatively small brains. Fossils of the primary type show larger brains. Our brains are even larger.

However, the expansion found by the Davis team was not on account of evolution, DeCarli said. It's too latest.

“It can’t be a genetic effect. It’s more likely that it’s environmental,” DeCarli said. “We don't know what these things are, but I suspect they have to do with better prenatal care, better nutrition, better education, and perhaps a more 'improved' environment.”

Dr.  Charles DeCarli, a professor of neurology at UC Davis, used brain imaging to compare the size of the brain structures of people born in the 1930s with those born in the 1970s.
Dr. Charles DeCarli, a professor of neurology at UC Davis, used brain imaging to check the scale of the brain structures of individuals born within the Thirties with those born within the Seventies.

Experts not involved within the project said the outcomes were provocative.

“Although these findings are new to our field, the significant advances over four decades are fascinating,” Prashanthi Vemuri, a neuroimaging scientist on the Mayo Clinic, wrote an editorial on the study. If that is confirmed, it would be vital to look at what’s driving this trend, she said.

“Replication of these results in other cohorts is essential,” she said. “If these results are confirmed by others and the observed differences per decade are as large as those reported, this will have important implications for aging and dementia studies.”

The study has limitations. The participants are healthy, well-educated and belong to the center class. They are just about all non-Latino white and don’t reflect the varied U.S. population.

Finally, it didn’t include individuals who had disadvantaged childhoods. If a bigger brain is protective, such disparities could increase the danger of dementia.

“We haven’t looked at populations that are suffering from adversity,” DeCarli said. “And I suspect they don’t experience the same changes over time.”

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