New study links heart disease risk factors to cognitive decline

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A recent study from the Centro Nacional de Investigaciones Cardiovasculares (CNIC) in Madrid unveils that the risk factors often associated with cardiovascular diseases like hypertension, high cholesterol, and diabetes, are also implicated in Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.

This revolutionary study, published in The Lancet Healthy Longevity, emphasizes the potential benefits of early prevention measures for both heart and brain health.

What is Atherosclerosis?

Atherosclerosis, the accumulation of fatty deposits in the arteries, is often linked to heart problems.

This study suggests that these same deposits might play a role in cerebral changes often seen in Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia.

The research is part of the PESA-CNIC-Santander study directed by Dr. Valentín Fuster, a prospective study that began in 2010 and includes more than 4000 asymptomatic middle-aged participants.

The study identified a link between cardiovascular risk factors and reduced cerebral glucose metabolism, an indicator of brain health.

A decline in cerebral glucose metabolism was three times greater in those who maintained high cardiovascular risk over several years.

Why it Matters

Understanding the heart-brain connection is vital for preventive care. According to Dr. Fuster, this offers a unique opportunity:

“the treatment of a modifiable disorder like cardiovascular disease can potentially prevent the development of an unmodifiable disease like dementia.”

The study’s team found that individuals showing metabolic decline already showed signs of neuronal injury.

“Neuronal death is irreversible, making early intervention crucial,” said Dr. Marta Cortés Canteli, a neuroscientist at CNIC.

While further research is needed, the study already has significant implications for public health policies. Dr. Fuster adds that this new data “could further increase awareness of the need to adopt healthy habits from the earliest life stages.”

What’s Next?

Screening for cardiovascular risk factors and for subclinical atherosclerosis in the carotid arteries, the arteries that supply the brain, could be a way to identify those at risk for future cognitive decline.

“The earlier we start to control cardiovascular risk factors, the better for our brain health,” concluded Dr. Cortés Canteli.

So as you take steps to control your blood pressure, cholesterol, and sugar levels for a healthy heart, know that you are also taking preventive measures for a healthy mind, possibly steering clear of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.

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The study was published in The Lancet Healthy Longevity.

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