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  • Favorite Tunes May Boost Brain Health

    Listening to personally meaningful music may benefit the brain in people with mild cognitive impairment or early Alzheimer’s disease. That’s the finding of a small study by researchers from the University of Toronto, who sought to learn more about the ways in which music can affect brain health in this population. They asked 14 volunteers with early-stage cognitive decline — six of whom were musicians and eight of whom were not — to listen to music for one hour a day for three weeks. Each participant’s playlist was comprised of music that they were familiar with and that was personally meaningful to them.

    The participants underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) both before and after the three-week listening period to assess any changes to brain function and structure during various tests of memory and cognition. During the fMRI scans, they listened to clips of both long-known and new music that was similar in style yet held no personal meaning to them.

    The researchers found that when people listened to personally meaningful music, there was significant activation in areas of the brain associated with cognitive engagement, as well as areas that were only minimally affected by Alzheimer’s disease. In comparison, listening to unfamiliar music mainly activated brain regions associated with hearing. Repeated exposure to personally meaningful music improved cognition in all participants, regardless of whether they were musicians.

    “Music-based interventions may be a feasible, cost-effective and readily accessible intervention for those in early-stage cognitive decline,” says the study’s lead researcher. (Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, November 9, 2021)

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  • Supplements May Head Off Autoimmune Disease

    When it comes to protecting against autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, polymyalgia rheumatica, and psoriasis, a pair of supplements may be helpful. That’s the finding of a recent study by researchers at Harvard Medical School and its affiliates. They analyzed data from VITAL, the largest national randomized, controlled trial to look at the effects of vitamin D3 and omega-3 fatty acid supplements on the risk of autoimmune disease.

    The study included 25,871 adults age 50 or over who were randomly assigned to one of four groups: 2,000 IU of vitamin D3 and 1,000 mg of omega-3s; 2,000 IU of vitamin D3 and a placebo pill; 1,000 mg of omega-3 fatty acids and a placebo pill; or two placebo pills. After about five years, the researchers found that the risk of developing an autoimmune disease was reduced by up to 30 percent in participants who received vitamin D3 supplements, omega-3 supplements, or both, compared to those who took placebo pills. The effects of vitamin D3 appeared to be more pronounced after two years of supplementation.

    “Both vitamin D and marine omega-3 fatty acids have immunomodulatory and anti-inflammatory properties,” explains the study’s co-author. “The findings are exciting because no other preventive therapies are available to reduce the risk of developing these serious health conditions.” The research was presented at the American College of Rheumatology’s annual meeting in November 2021.

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