At the University of California-San Francisco, researchers just completed a 25-year long study that finds having a healthy heart can prevent the risk of Alzheimer’s and Dementia later in life. This is the first long-term comprehensive study that examines the link between strokes and heart disease.
This study was conducted with over 3,000 people, ages 18 to 31. Each person in the study had his or her levels of cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar checked regularly every two to five years. Then 25 years later, the participants took three tests measuring their cognition levels. The areas they were tested in were memory and learning, decision processing speed, and brain aging. Results showed that people who had higher levels of cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar earlier in life, (more than the average American should—according to the American Heart Association), all scored lower on the cognition tests. The results also show that those who were 40-50 years old and had higher blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar, all scored lower on cognitive functions than younger people did, who had lower levels of blood sugar, cholesterol, and blood pressure.
Kristine Yaffe, M.D., was the study’s author and is also an epidemiologist, neuropsychiatrist, and a professor. She says it is amazing to find that young adults, who have a slightly higher cardiovascular risk, can have their brain health affected later in life and will encounter not only old age issues, but lifelong issues as well. Yaffe also believes that this study is important because it could decrease the risks of Alzheimer’s and dementia by teaching kids early about the significance of a healthy heart.
Over the last 30 years in the United States, recent statistics show that childhood obesity has more than doubled in children, and more than quadrupled in teens. Obesity directly results in the increase of cholesterol, blood sugar, and blood pressure. People, who are obese as children and have higher levels of blood sugar, cholesterol, and blood pressure, are potentially at risk for having their cognitive functions decrease as they age, not just from old age, but from an unhealthy heart.
Elevated cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and blood sugar are three factors that cause atherosclerosis, which is a narrowing of the arteries through a buildup of plaque. When the arteries are blocked by plaque, it affects the amount of blood flowing to the heart and brain. Clean, unclogged arteries are essential for a healthy heart to prevent a decrease in brain function and also prevent the risk of Alzheimer’s and Dementia.
A person’s cognitive function, or brain function, is directly affected by diet, fitness level, social interactions, and staying challenged mentally. However, this new study shows that having a strong heart when you are younger is also extremely important for having a higher brain function when you are older. Yaffe asserts that having a healthy heart cannot only prevent the risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia, but it can also keep your brain healthy as well.
By Sara Petersen