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Scientists suggest “Use it or Lose it” to guard against memory loss

If you want to retain your memory as you age, it’s important that you keep your brain active. That’s the message we’re getting from researchers from the Iowa State University. Following their discovery that an increase in the levels of a specific protein is associated with increased brain volume and a better memory, they suggest that taking the time to continue with some sort of learning is vital for keeping our brains healthy and active.

During their research, the scientists were able to identify a protein that plays a vital role in building memories. What’s more, this protein could be used to predict the progression of memory loss and the accompanying brain atrophy in people with Alzheimer’s. The findings of their study suggest that there is an association between the activity of the brain and a protein known as neuronal pentraxin-2 or NPTX2; the higher the levels of the protein, the better the memory. Higher levels of NPTX2 were also associated with a higher brain volume. Conversely, lower levels of NPTX2 were linked to diminished memory and a lower brain volume.

The researchers believe that this protein has some kind of protective effect on the brain and, having more of this protein means less brain atrophy and an improved memory as you get older. Of course, these findings are very encouraging as they offer a way to track the progression of Alzheimer’s, however the research has also thrown up many questions that the researchers are unable to answer at the moment. If NPTX2 has such a powerful influence, is it possible to boost the levels of this protein and if so, how?

One finding that did suggest a possible solution was that those people with a higher level of education appeared to have higher levels of NPTX2. Furthermore, participants with complex jobs or who made an effort to stay mentally and socially active also seemed to benefit, giving rise to the ‘use it or lose it’ theory. If you take the time to ‘exercise’ your brain by giving it new things to learn, you’ll train it to process information and keep that ability active.

This research was published in a recent edition of the online journal Brain, Behaviour and Immunity.

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