Heart health and brain function: the strong connection

Credit: Jamie Street / Unsplash.

A tool that doctors use to predict the likelihood of cardiovascular disease could also be used to predict cognitive function, according to new research.

The study found that the higher a person’s risk score for cardiovascular disease over the next 10 years, the lower their score on cognitive function tests.

This suggests that taking care of our heart health could also help protect our brain health.

The Connection

Cardiovascular disease and cognitive decline, or dementia, share a lot of risk factors, according to the co-author of the study, Dr. Jingkai Wei.

His research suggests that for every 5% increase in the cardiovascular disease risk score, there could be a corresponding decrease in cognitive functioning.

The risk of cardiovascular disease is calculated using the Framingham risk score.

This score takes into account factors such as a person’s age, sex, race, cholesterol levels, blood pressure, whether they take medication for blood pressure, and whether they have diabetes or smoke.

The Study

In the study, the researchers analyzed data from over 2,200 adults aged 60 and over who had not been previously diagnosed with cardiovascular disease.

They used the Framingham risk score to calculate each person’s risk of developing cardiovascular disease over the next 10 years.

To measure cognitive function, they used three tests. The results showed that participants with medium and high-risk scores for cardiovascular disease performed worse on cognitive tests than those with low-risk scores.

The Implication

Dr. Kristine Yaffe, a professor at the Weill Institute for Neurosciences, who was not involved in the study, said that the findings add to the evidence that taking care of cardiovascular health is important not just for heart health, but also for brain health.

“What’s good for the heart is good for the brain,” she said.

However, the study found that the link between higher cardiovascular risk scores and lower cognitive function did not hold up for Black people.

This might mean that the risk calculator does not predict outcomes as accurately for African Americans, according to Dr. Wei.

The Solution

Reducing risk factors for cardiovascular disease could be a strategy for preventing cognitive decline, according to Dr. Wei. While some risk factors, like age, cannot be changed, many others can be managed.

Dr. Yaffe recommends treating conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, and obesity, and engaging in healthy lifestyle behaviors like regular exercise and a healthy diet.

If you care about heart health, please read studies about the best blood sugar levels to prevent strokes and heart attacks, and Vitamin K may lower your heart disease risk by a third.

For more information about heart health, please see recent studies about why obesity increases heart damage in COVID-19, and results showing this drug combo can halve your risk of heart attack and stroke.

The study was published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

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