Lifestyle changes have been touted as a way to prevent Alzheimer’s disease, but many of these, such as exercising more, are hard to implement. What if prevention were as simple as controlling your breathing? A paper in the March 9, 2023 Scientific Reports offers tantalizing hints of this.
NOTE: The following video on How to do Deep Breathing is not associated in any way with Alzforum.com.
Researchers led by Mara Mather at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, found that healthy adults who did a daily slow-breathing exercise for a month lowered the amount of Aβ40 and Aβ42 in their blood.
Because high plasma Aβ is associated with AD risk and general mortality, it is possible the drop could be protective, although that remains to be shown. Mather noted that other healthy behaviors, such as exercise or improving sleep, have not yet demonstrated the ability to change Aβ in a favorable direction compared to control interventions. “To have a behavioral intervention that moves the dial on plasma Aβ is really unique,” she told Alzforum.
Why modify breathing? Because it affects heart rate. When people inhale, their heartbeat speeds up, and when they exhale, it slows down. This heart rate variability (HRV) is controlled by the vagus nerve, and is thus an indication of parasympathetic nerve activity. The vagus communicates to all major organs, and it counteracts stimulation from the sympathetic nervous system. It can cause heart rate and blood pressure to drop suddenly, as when a person faints at the sight of blood or from emotional distress. Inhaling partially blocks vagal impulses, speeding up the heart.