Heart disease may affect women’s cognitive skills more severely

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A Greater Impact on Women

While men are generally more likely to suffer from cardiovascular conditions and related risk factors in middle age, a new study suggests that the adverse effects of these conditions on cognitive functions might be more pronounced in women.

This research was published in the January 5, 2022, online issue of Neurology.

According to the study’s author, Michelle M. Mielke, Ph.D., from the Mayo Clinic, midlife cardiovascular conditions and risk factors were linked to cognitive decline in middle age, but this association was stronger for women.

Conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and dyslipidemia (abnormally high levels of fats in the blood) had more substantial associations with cognitive decline in women compared to men.

Research Findings

The study examined 1,857 individuals between the ages of 50 and 69 without dementia.

They were given clinical evaluations every 15 months for approximately three years, which included nine tests of memory, language, executive function, and spatial skills to calculate a composite cognitive score.

Overall, 79% of the participants had at least one cardiovascular condition or risk factor, with more men (83%) than women (75%) having at least one risk factor.

However, most cardiovascular conditions were more strongly associated with cognitive function in women.

For instance, heart disease was linked to over twice the rate of decline in composite cognitive test scores for women compared to men.

The research also revealed that diabetes, heart disease, and abnormally high-fat levels in the blood were associated with a decline in language scores only in women, while congestive heart failure was linked to language score decline only in men.

Future Research

Dr. Mielke called for more research to investigate sex differences in the relationships between cardiovascular risk factors and specific biomarkers of brain disease, such as white matter hyperintensities, areas of dead tissue, and overall white matter integrity in midlife.

This could potentially help us understand the sex-specific mechanisms through which cardiovascular conditions and risk factors contribute to cognitive impairment in both women and men.

However, the study does have its limitations. All participants were from a single county in Minnesota, limiting the generalizability of the findings.

Also, the study does not prove that women with cardiovascular risk factors will have a cognitive decline in midlife, but it establishes an association.

If you care about nutrition, please read studies about how Mediterranean diet could protect your brain health, and the best time to take vitamins to prevent heart disease.

For more information about health, please see recent studies about plant nutrients that could help reduce high blood pressure, and these antioxidants could help reduce dementia risk.

The study was published in Neurology.

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