Can slowing breathing reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease?

May 26, 2023 0 Comments

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Researchers have found that intentionally slowing your breathing rate for 20 to 40 minutes a day can reduce the production of peptides associated with Alzheimer’s disease. A study published earlier this year in Scientific reportsis considered the first to investigate the effects of behavioral modification on neurodegenerative disease.

Researchers at the University of Southern California, the University of California, Irvine, and the University of California, Los Angeles, have suggested that changes in the nervous system’s response normally associated with older age may play a role in the development of Alzheimer’s disease.

As we age, we usually experience an increase in the state of high stress (activity of the sympathetic nervous system) and a decrease in the state of relaxation (activity of the parasympathetic nervous system). The study analyzed whether this decline could be linked to Alzheimer’s disease by tracking heart rate variability (HRV), a measure of how much we experience fluctuations in the time between heartbeats. HRV is controlled by the autonomic nervous system.

In healthy (and often young) people, a high HRV can be an indicator of an adaptive body. For example, when you go into fight-or-flight mode during a stressful situation and then quickly return to a calm state, this indicates a high HRV. The researchers tested whether slowing breathing, which is known to affect HRV, also affects markers of Alzheimer’s disease.

How researchers conducted research

Researchers divided 162 participants into two groups. The report includes data from 54 younger and 54 older participants who provided blood samples before and after the study intervention.

The first group was asked to maximize heart rate fluctuations through slow breathing exercises. During the four-week study, members of this group practiced one of five breathing cycles, each lasting 9 to 13 seconds per breath. (For example, a 12-second inhalation cycle would include a 6-second inhalation and a 6-second exhalation.)

A second group was instructed to reduce heart rate fluctuations by using their own “self-generated” stress-relief strategies. Suggested approaches included visualizing nature scenes, listening to soothing sounds, or closing your eyes.

Both groups were instructed to perform at least one 20-minute exercise session per day. Each group recorded real-time data during the sessions using biofeedback measurements. The researchers documented the participants’ baseline data for two weeks before the study and also recorded their measurements for two weeks after the study.

What Alzheimer’s research shows

At the end of the study, the researchers found that the group that practiced the slow breathing exercises experienced significantly lower levels of two peptides — 40 and 42 — that are associated with Alzheimer’s disease. In contrast, the other group experienced higher levels of these two peptides.

The study authors suggest that the study provides “new evidence” supporting a behavioral intervention that reduces beta-amyloid peptide levels. If additional research replicates the results, slow breathing could become an affordable way to reduce the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s disease or slow its progression, which would be truly revolutionary.

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