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Heart Risks Can Slow the Mind

An increased risk for heart disease can lead to brain problemsIf you’re at increased risk for heart disease – because your cholesterol is high, you smoke, you’re overweight, your blood pressure is high, or you have type 2 diabetes – odds are that these risks will affect your brain, too, leading to poor memory and other changes for the worse in the way your mind works. This bad news gets even more alarming: the cognitive slippage can begin in your thirties and forties, and perhaps even at younger ages. These findings come from a study in the Netherlands that included 3,778 participants from age 35 to 82. All had tests to evaluate their memory as well as their ability to plan and reason. The participants' cardiovascular risks were determined over the next 10 years on the basis of well-established contributors, including smoking habits, diabetes and blood pressure. Of these, smoking and diabetes were the most powerful predictors in determining whether cognitive function declines. Overall, the higher a participant’s risk of cardiovascular disease, the lower he or she scored on cognitive tests.

My take? The only potential benefit I see in this study is the chance that its results might motivate young people to get serious about their health and take early action to reduce their risks of cardiovascular disease. Simply losing weight can help control both diabetes and blood pressure. I doubt that anyone on the planet thinks that smoking is good for you, but plenty of young smokers aren’t taking the risks it presents seriously enough to quit. If they figure they don’t have to worry about heart attacks and stroke until their 50s or 60s, this study’s findings that cognitive decline can kick in during the 30s and 40s, might give them second thoughts.

Hanneke Joosten, MD and Marlise E.A. van Eersel, MD et al, “ Cardiovascular Risk Profile and Cognitive Function in Young, Middle-Aged, and Elderly Subjects,” Stroke, June 2013

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