- Participants took part in simple breathing exercises twice a day for four weeks.
- A new study finds breath work may help decrease the risk of dementia.
- Upon conclusion of the study, researchers noted decreased concentrations of crucial proteins linked to Alzheimer’s disease within their bloodstream.
Breathing exercises, commonly practiced during stress-reducing activities like meditation, yoga, and creating body equilibrium, may have a positive impact beyond relaxation. Recent studies show that the art of breathwork may also reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
Alzheimer Disease Risk
The study, conducted at USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology and published in Scientific ReportsTrusted Source, shows evidence that adults, both old and young, may be able to reduce factors that contribute to Alzheimer Disease Risk.
“This study is among the first to investigate whether breathing exercises could influence the protein amyloid, a marker of Alzheimer’s,” explained Dr. Susan Kohlhaas, Executive Director of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK. “The findings suggest that breathing techniques which reduce heart rate may also reduce the buildup of amyloid and tau as observed in the bloodstream.”
How the study measured the effects of breathwork
The study involved 108 participants, evenly distributed across two age groups; half of whom were between 18-30 years of age and the other half between 55-80 years. The participants were instructed to inhale and exhale for a count of five, twice daily, over a period of four weeks while being hooked up to a heart monitor. While one group thought of calming things, the other group was instructed to pace their breathing in rhythm with a metronome.
The volunteers’ heart rates were proven to benefit from the breathing exercises, as observed with an increased heart rate variability during every session. In addition, the study revealed a decrease in the levels of amyloid-beta peptides and tau protein circulating in the bloodstream of participants over a four-week period. These findings suggest that incorporating breathing exercises in one’s routine could potentially lead to positive impacts on one’s heart rate and blood chemistry.
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The role of amyloid beta peptides and an abnormal form of tau protein in Alzheimer’s disease is pivotal. When amyloid beta peptides cluster together to form plaque in the brain, it can cause damage that leads to Alzheimer’s. Sadly, there’s no known cure for this common form of dementia. Interestingly, our breathing can impact our heart rate, which in turn affects our nervous system and the brain’s ability to produce clear proteins.
The accumulation of amyloid-beta peptides, particularly amyloid beta 40 and 42, is believed to contribute towards cognitive degeneration in Alzheimer’s disease. Research demonstrates that healthy adults without signs of amyloid accumulation in the brain, but possessing amyloid beta 40 and 42 in their blood, have a greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s later in life.
Dr. Joel Salinas, a behavioral neurologist and researcher at NYU Langone Health, praised the study and said, “It is particularly strong due to the specificity of the intervention. Its controlled nature and focus on biomarkers associated with cognitive decline in Alzheimer’s make for a compelling case. Not to mention, it is a low-cost, straightforward intervention accessible to everyone, which truly underscores its significance.”
Breathwork and the brain
The researchers behind the study speculate that various mechanisms could explain how changing breathing patterns reduces the accumulation of Alzheimer’s proteins in the brain. However, further investigation is necessary to identify these mechanisms and their overall impact on dementia risk. Kohlhaas states that the noradrenergic pathway, which triggers the “fight or flight” response, might play a role, but more research is needed.
Although the link between heart rate variability and peptide reduction is well established, it’s unclear why this occurs. Specifically, researchers believe the decrease in amyloid beta is due to lowered production. However, further studies are needed to clarify the implications of this finding and how it can be used for Alzheimer’s risk management.
Larger studies could help give clarity
“While this study is interesting,” Kohlhaas remarked, “there remains much to be done before we can draw definitive conclusions about its potential long-term benefits.” Firstly, the small sample size calls for larger-scale studies to explore signs of efficacy.
Salinas pondered on the generalizability of the outcomes, remarking on the absence of data on stressors across races or socioeconomic factors. Nevertheless, the study serves as motivation for more extensive research or clinical trials, with a focus on diversity.