Those Who Are Prone To Heart Disease May Also Be At Greater Risk Of Dementia

mbg Senior Sustainability Editor By Emma Loewe
mbg Senior Sustainability Editor
Emma Loewe is the Sustainability Editor at mindbodygreen and the author of "The Spirit Almanac: A Modern Guide To Ancient Self Care."
Doctor Examining a Patient with a Stethoscope

Image by Sean Locke / Stocksy

In what is yet another reminder that everything in the body is connected, a new study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that people who were at a higher risk of cardiovascular disease were also more likely to experience cognitive decline.

How was this study set up, and what did it find?

Researchers came to this conclusion after monitoring 1,588 dementia-free older adults over a period of 21 years. At the start of the trial, they calculated each participant's Framingham Risk Score for Hard Coronary Heart Disease, which measured their likelihood of having a heart attack within 10 years based on factors like age, cholesterol, and blood pressure. They then calculated every participant's cognition (by testing memory and processing speed) once a year.

At the end of the trial, they compared the results of these two tests and found that "having a higher cardiovascular risk burden was associated with faster decline in episodic memory, working memory, and perceptual speed." Cardiovascular risk also seemed to be associated with a smaller hippocampus and less gray matter—both of which are typical markers for Alzheimer's.

"In the absence of effective treatments for dementia, we need to monitor and control cardiovascular risk burden as a way to maintain patients' cognitive health as they age," Weili Xu, Ph.D., a researcher who took part in the study said in its news release. "Given the progressive increase in the number of dementia cases worldwide, our findings have both clinical and public health relevance."

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This isn't the first time researchers have spotted a relationship between heart and brain health.

This is just the most recent study to identify a potential link between heart health and brain health. While we don't know the exact mechanism that connects the risk factors for cardiovascular disease and cognitive decline, it likely has something to do with our blood flow.

"Anything that damages your blood vessels or impairs blood flow to your heart hurts your brain," Daniel Amen, M.D., a double board-certified psychiatrist, wrote on mindbodygreen earlier this year. "This means that taking care of your heart and blood vessels is critical for your brain health and mental well-being. And this relationship goes both ways."

What it means for our health.

Dementia affects around 50 million people worldwide. And while genetics do factor into your risk of cognitive decline, they aren't everything! The medical community is increasingly in agreement that you can reduce your chance of developing dementia in the future by keeping up with a healthy lifestyle today. This new research suggests that practices that support a healthy heart in particular—exercising regularly, eating a balanced diet, monitoring alcohol consumption, and not smoking—may pay dividends for brain health down the line.

Ready to learn how to fight inflammation and address autoimmune disease through the power of food? Join our 5-Day Inflammation Video Summit with mindbodygreen’s top doctors.

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