Heart Health Issues in Young People May Trigger Brain Diseases in Later Years

According to the findings of a preliminary study, heart health-related problems like high body mass index (BMI), high cholesterol levels, or smoking in the 20s may increase the risk of brain problems at a later age. These results are going to be presented at the 72nd Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Neurology (AAN) that will take place from April 25 to May 1, 2020, in Toronto, Canada.

An individual suffering from such health issues in his 20s has a greater risk of having brain problems that can affect his memory and thinking skills, and the brain’s capability to appropriately control its blood flow or cerebral autoregulation.

According to the author of this study – Farzaneh A. Sorond, the results of this study suggest that there is a need for people to be more concerned about their health, especially in their early 20s. She added that AAN is well aware of the fact that vascular risk factors like high blood glucose levels and high blood pressure are associated with problems regarding thinking skills and cerebrovascular damage in people of older age.

But up till now, it wasn’t known that these factors may cause the injuries to occur much earlier. Nearly 189 participants, averagely aged 24, were included in this study and followed for almost 30 years. Among these participants, 55 percent were white, and 45 percent were black.

These individuals were tested nearly 8 times throughout the study period. Their cardiovascular health was analyzed at the time of every visit on the basis of five factors. These factors include fasting blood glucose level, blood pressure, basal metabolic index (BMI), total cholesterol, and smoking.

The capability of the brain to control its blood flow and the individuals’ memory and thinking skills were also tested at their 30-year visit.

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After 30 years, the scores on memory and thinking skills tests were analyzed and it was found that the people with better cardiovascular health in their early 20s have greater chances of having high memory and thinking skills scores compared to ones with worse cardiovascular health.

For instance, on testing attention skills with a score ranging between 7 and 103, there was 2.2 points increase in the score of attention skills for every point increase in the cardiovascular health score. The findings were similar even after adjusting the elements that may influence memory and thinking skills, such as education level.

Moreover, after seven years of the study, the likelihood of having better cerebral autoregulation was also found to be more in people who had better cardiovascular health at the time of study initiation.

Sorond observed that the study doesn’t provide evidence that better brain health is a result of better cardiovascular health, instead it only proves an association between better cardiovascular health and better cerebral autoregulation along with better memory and thinking skills.

The study’s limitation was that cerebral autoregulation wasn’t assessed at every visit that is required for a better understanding regarding the association between brain blood flow regulation and cardiovascular health.

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, the National Institutes of Health, the Kaiser Foundation Research Institute, the University of Minnesota, Northwestern University, and the University of Alabama at Birmingham have supported this study.