Could too little sex lead to dementia? Maybe, a new study suggests.
By Brett Arends
What researchers don't know is whether declining sexual satisfaction is causing the memory decline, vice versa, or whether the two are happening at the same time
Falling levels of sexual satisfaction in middle age, and rising incidence of erectile dysfunction, could be risk factors for age-related memory decline and ultimately for dementia in men, according to a new scientific research.
The findings, sure to produce a few headlines, come as other scientists report further evidence that poor diets are putting older people at risk of memory loss and dementia.
Both studies add to the growing body of knowledge about the lifestyle changes that can reduce the likelihood of developing dementia -- a devastating and ultimately fatal disease that is already killing 6 million Americans.
Those numbers are expected to rise sharply as the population ages.
Former first lady Rosalynn Carter, now 95, was revealed this week to have developed Alzheimer's, the most common form of dementia.
There is no cure for dementia and few treatments that have any effect. But scientists now believe that exercise, including just walking, keeping your weight down, eating more natural foods and avoiding processed junk may all help lower our risk of developing dementia. So, too, may maintaining an active social life in old age, exercising your brain and meditation.
In the study about sexual satisfaction, researchers at San Diego State University, Penna State, the University of California San Diego and Boston University tracked more than 800 men aged 56 to 68 over a 12-year period.
Their conclusion: that those who reported declining satisfaction with their sex lives over the 12-year period also performed worse on average in a variety of standardized memory tests. Those for whom erectile dysfunction was more common also tended to perform worse on memory tests, as did those who saw their incidence of ED increase over the course of the study.
"Decreases in erectile function and sexual satisfaction were both associated with memory decline," the researchers write in the latest issue of the medical journal the Gerontologist. "Decreasing sexual health may signal an increased risk for cognitive decline."
What they don't yet know is whether declining sexual satisfaction is causing the memory decline, vice versa, or whether the two are happening at the same time. The researchers point out that there are multiple ways in which the two could be connected. Cardiovascular issues and poor blood flow could be causing ED, lower sex levels and declining memory, they point out. Declining sexual satisfaction could be part of a broader decline in happiness and satisfaction with life, and that, too, has been associated with rising risks of memory decline
The study only looked at men.
Meanwhile, medical researchers at the Columbia and Harvard medical schools report that poor diets, especially those low in the so-called flavonols that are found in many fruits and vegetables, also pose a risk factor for memory decline and dementia.
The findings follow a three-year study of 3,600 older adults. Those whose diets contained low levels of flavonols saw their memory performance improve after they were given daily flavonol supplements. "The flavanol intervention restored memory among participants in lower tertiles of habitual diet quality or habitual flavanol consumption. Increases in the flavanol biomarker over the course of the trial were associated with improving memory," the researchers report.
We've written about flavonols before. They are found in tea, apples, berries, grapes, cocoa, and other fruits and vegetables. (Regarding cocoa: It may be worth noting that the research was assisted by a grant from Mars Inc.)
More sex may not ward off dementia. But better safe than sorry, right?
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June 03, 2023 12:09 ET (16:09 GMT)
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