Heart disease risk factors can lead to a decline in brain function in both
younger and older adults, Dutch researchers report.
The new study included nearly 3 800 people, aged 35 to 82, who were checked
for heart disease risk factors such as smoking, diabetes and high levels of
"bad" cholesterol, and given tests to assess their memory and mental skills such
as the ability to plan and reason and to begin and switch tasks.
Those with the highest risk for heart disease did 50% worse on the
mental tests than those with the lowest risk. Two heart disease risk factors -
smoking and diabetes - were especially associated with poorer brain function,
according to the study.
The link between heart disease risk factors and reduced brain function was
seen in all age groups, the investigators noted.
Public action needed
"Young adults may think the consequences of smoking or being overweight are
years down the road, but they aren't," study author Dr Hanneke Joosten, a
nephrology fellow at the University Medical Center in Groningen, the
Netherlands, said in a journal news release.
"Most people know the negative effects of heart risk factors such as heart
attack, stroke and [kidney] impairment, but they do not realise it affects
cognitive [mental] health. What's bad for the heart is also bad for the brain,"
She said doctors need to be aware of this link between heart disease risk
factors and brain function decline, and more public action is needed to reduce
heart disease risk factors.
"Smoking cessation programmes might not only prevent cancer, stroke and
cardiovascular events, but also cognitive [mental] damage," Joosten said.
The association between heart risk factors and poorer brain function seen in
the study does not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.
The US National Institutes of Health outlines steps you can take to reduce