Bad arteries is bad for your brain
The molecular stuff transported through your blood vessels, such as cholesterol, triglycerides, and toxic homocysteine— can affect intelligence, memory, mood, vulnerability to stroke and intellectual decline. Research even shows that mini-strokes, and inflammation of cerebral vessels are implicated in Alzheimer’s disease, accentuating intellectual losses. Thus, so-called “vascular dementia” (mainly thought due to tiny strokes) and Alzheimer’s-type dementia are not isolated, as once thought, but intertwined. In fact, severe cardiovascular disease increases your risk of Alzheimer’s.
Indeed, if you can stay free of serious heart disease, you dramatically slash your risk of memory loss and dementia as you get older. Additionally, avoiding diabetes and Alzheimer’s practically guarantees you a normally functioning brain in old age.
BOTTOM LINE: Only recently have scientists begun to understand how vascular villains conspire to harm your brain, and how critical it is to protect your brain from the ravages of cardiovascular disease. Taking extra measures to prevent heart disease and diabetes may have an enormous payoff—a well-functioning, nondemented brain until the end of life.
BAD ARTERIES, BAD BRAIN
Over the last few years research has increasingly tied blood vessel abnormalities—high blood pressure, high blood sugar, thickened carotid arteries—to intellectual decline as you get older. Now a new landmark study defines precisely how crucial such factors are in keeping your mind intact. For ten years, Mary N. Haan and colleagues at the University of California at Davis School of Medicine tracked 5,888 persons over age sixty-five, testing their mental capabilities every year. The troubling finding: Severe atherosclerosis tripled the risk of decline in mental function—including all aspects of cognition—perception, thinking, reasoning, memory, speed of mental processing—as measured by standard tests. Most profoundly detrimental were high systolic blood pressure, atrial fibrillation (irregular heartbeat), greater thickness of the wall of carotid (neck) arteries, congestive heart failure, and strokes. Those with diabetes and glucose intolerance also showed signs of accelerated mental decline.
Another factor strongly determined cognitive decline: About 25 percent of the study group carried a gene (so-called apolipoprotein E4 gene) associated with Alzheimer’s disease. This gene tripled or quadrupled the risk of loss of mental function. Worst of all was a combination of severe cardiovascular disease or diabetes and the gene. People with that combination were eight times more apt to suffer mental decline as those with little atherosclerosis or diabetes and no genetic abnormality.
This means that cardiovascular disease or diabetes alone can dramatically increase your odds of mind slippage with age. The good news is it also suggests that a genetic predisposition to Alzheimer’s may not kick in unless you also have cardiovascular disease or diabetes. However, the magnitude of the threat is alarming. It indicates that serious heart disease and diabetes may be a prelude to or stimulant of severe, irreversible intellectual erosion in one-quarter of all adults who unknowingly carry the gene. If you did not already have incentive enough to try to ward off heart disease, this may be a reason that convinces you. Where the heart goes, the brain follows.
Here’s the latest scientific evidence on specific blood factors that can damage your brain.