Bad for Your Heart, Bad For Your Brain

We have seen many ads on TV, billboards, posters and even endorsements promoting the benefits of taurine, DHAs, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids on our brains. Have you also seen health alerts on mental health and the tragic anecdotes of people who suffer from it that make you vow to eat anything you can to prevent that from happening to you?

Well, it turns out that while all of those supplements and nutrients are certainly good and helpful to some extent, fixing certain lifestyle choices and conditions such as reducing sugar and fat in your food, going for a jog in the morning, quitting smoking and managing your stress levels may actually go a longer way to help you prevent dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, and lease to say attaining a slender figure.

People who have developed and possess vascular risk factors such as diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity are likely than their otherwise healthier counterparts to be more prone to developing abnormal changes in the structure of the brain that can result in dementia and possibly other issues in the brain.


What’s Bad for Your Heart Also Stays in the Brain

Researchers on a recent study conducted to find out if cardiovascular health affects brain structure examined data of nearly 10,000 adults aged between 44 and 79, all of whom have had at least one MRI brain scan and provided information and records on their health for the study.

Looking for any association between the human brain structure and vascular risk factors, the researchers found that, with the exception of high cholesterol, all other vascular risk factors, such as smoking, high blood and pulse pressures, diabetes and obesity, were linked to changes in the brain as observed in people with dementia.

There are some factors that add to one’s cognitive and brain ageing that cannot be changed, such as our genes, so the researchers looked at the list of things that humans can have some agency over. These things are what the researchers called ‘malleable’ risk factors.


Shrinking Grey and White Matter is No Laughing Matter

The more risks to the vascular health an individual had, the poorer the health of his/her brain is, as shown by a greater extent of brain shrinkage, lesser grey matter on the surface of the brain and less healthy white matter in the deep parts of the brain.

On top of the many benefits of improving cardiovascular health such as from eating a balanced diet, maintaining a healthy weight, exercising, controlling blood sugar and not starting or quitting smoking, maintaining the health of the brain is another one to add to the basket of good.

The strongest evidence of the association between brain structure and vascular risk factors were found in the areas of the brain that are responsible for more complex thinking skills. These areas deteriorate as a person develops Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Heart disease risk factors were seen to have just as much of an impact on brain health during one’s middle-age as his/her later years. The researchers reported this finding in the European Heart Journal.

The study also found that the risk of changes to the brain’s structure associated with the decline in cognitive abilities also increased proportionately to each additional vascular risk factor. The effects appear in healthier adults too.

Smoking, diabetes and high blood pressure were the risk factors that displayed the most consistent associations with all kinds of brain tissue, while high cholesterol levels were not found to have any associations with any differences in the MRI scans.

The study was not a controlled experiment made to prove if certain risk factors directly result in dementia and declines in cognitive abilities, neither was it designed to show how they do if they had any associations.  What the findings do show is that experts are increasingly acknowledging the fact that dementia is not a simple syndrome, but a complex one, of which vascular risks play a part in contributing to the changes in brain structures as seen and expected in people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

There is already sufficient evidence of the brain-vascular connection for people to do whatever is necessary and whatever they can to maintain and promote the health of their brains as they get older.


Make the Lifestyle Change to Stop the Brain Change

Since smoking, high blood pressure and diabetes present the strongest risks to abnormal changes in brain structure, they are factors that need working on the most urgently among all other risk factors.

Quit smoking as quickly as you can, control your blood pressure and bring it down if it is high, control diabetes with medication and refrain from high sugar intakes, take up aerobic exercises and maintain a healthy weight will be powerful measures you can take on any day to reduce the damage to the brain that will otherwise occur as you age.