A new study from USC found that regular breathing exercises can reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease by decreasing the levels of amyloid-beta peptides in our blood.
This study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, maybe the first to discover that adults of all ages can lower their amyloid-beta levels by using breathing exercises.
The Relationship Between Breathing and Heart Rate
Breathing has a direct impact on our heart rate, which in turn affects our nervous system and how our brain produces proteins and clears them away.
When we are awake and active, we use our sympathetic nervous system, which is also known as the “fight or flight” system. This system is used for exercising, focusing attention, and creating long-lasting memories.
During sympathetic nervous system activation, there is little variation in the time between each heartbeat.
In contrast, when our parasympathetic system is activated, heart rates increase during inhalation and decrease during exhalation.
This is sometimes known as the “rest and digest” part of our system, which allows us to calm down, digest food easily, and sleep soundly. When these activities occur, the variation between heartbeats is greater.
Age-Related Decrease in Access to Parasympathetic Nervous System
As we age, our ability to access our parasympathetic nervous system decreases dramatically.
A 2020 study found that heart rate variability drops on average by 80 percent between twenty and sixty years old.
This decrease in heart rate variability could partially explain why we struggle to sleep deeply as we age.
The Link Between Sympathetic and Parasympathetic Systems and Alzheimer’s Disease
According to the team, “We know the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems influence the production and clearance of Alzheimer’s related peptides and proteins.
Nevertheless, there’s been very little research on how these physiological changes in aging might be contributing to the factors that make it conducive for someone to develop Alzheimer’s disease or not.”
Breathing Exercises to Increase Heart Rate Variability
To study the impact of breathing exercises on amyloid-beta levels, researchers from USC, UC Irvine, and UCLA asked participants to do biofeedback exercises twice a day for 20 minutes at a time.
Half the group was instructed to think of calm things, like a beach scene or a walk in a park, or to listen to calm music.
Meanwhile, they were instructed to keep an eye on their heart rate as displayed on the laptop screen, making sure the heart rate line stayed as steady as possible while they meditated.
The other group was told to pace their breathing in rhythm with a pacer on the laptop screen. They inhaled when the square rose and exhaled when the square dropped.
They also monitored their heart rates, which tended to rise in peaks as they inhaled and dip down to baseline as they exhaled. Their goal was to increase the breathing-induced oscillations in their heart rate.
Results of the Study
After four weeks of biofeedback training, the researchers took blood samples from the participants and examined the plasma of participants from both groups, looking for amyloid-beta peptides.
The study found that the group who breathed slowly and tried to increase their heart rate variability (HRV) by increasing oscillations showed decreased plasma levels of both amyloid beta 40 and 42.
Researchers are still trying to determine why the peptides decrease when HRV increases.
Overall, this study suggests that incorporating regular breathing exercises that increase heart rate variability may help reduce the levels of amyloid beta peptides in the blood, potentially decreasing the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
While this study is certainly promising, there is still much to learn about the mechanisms behind the relationship between heart rate variability and amyloid beta levels, and more research is needed to fully understand the potential benefits of this type of intervention.
Nevertheless, this study provides further evidence of the important connections between our physical health and cognitive function.
It highlights the potential for simple, non-pharmacological interventions to help promote brain health and reduce the risk of age-related cognitive decline.
If you care about Alzheimer’s, please read studies about the root cause of Alzheimer’s disease, and new non-drug treatment could help prevent Alzheimer’s.
For more information about brain health, please see recent studies about antioxidants that could help reduce dementia risk, and Coconut oil could help improve cognitive function in Alzheimer’s disease.
The study was conducted by Jungwon Min et al and published in Scientific Reports.
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