In a new study from the University of Sheffield, researchers found heart disease can directly cause brain dysfunction early on which could lead to dementia and can triple the amount of an Alzheimer’s protein in the brain.
They found that heart disease causes a breakdown of a key brain function which links brain activity and blood flow, meaning the brain gets less blood for the same amount of activity.
This is happening in heart disease patients before the build-up of fat in the brain’s blood vessels (atherosclerosis) and is a prelude to dementia.
Until now it has been unclear how some forms of vascular dementia can happen years before atherosclerosis in the brain.
The researchers also discovered that the combination of heart disease and a genetic predisposition for Alzheimer’s Disease trebles the amount of beta-amyloid, a protein that builds up and triggers Alzheimer’s, and increases the levels of an inflammatory gene (IL1) in the brain.
The team says Alzheimer’s Disease is the most common form of dementia worldwide and heart disease is a major risk factor for both Alzheimer’s and dementia.
The new findings are key to furthering our understanding of the links between heart disease and dementia.
Heart disease in midlife causes the breakdown of neurovascular coupling, an important mechanism in our brains which controls the amount of blood supplied to our neurons.
This breakdown means the brain doesn’t get enough oxygen when needed and in time this can lead to dementia.
The team also found that brain injuries can also worsen brain blood flow regulation, supporting observations that patients’ symptoms often worsen after injuries or falls.
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The study is published in eLife. One author of the study is Dr. Osman Shabir.
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