Many people consider the health of their physical body to be separate from the health of their mind, which is to say their brain. However, it is vitally important to remember that anything that affects the blood vessels affects our brain. A few of these are smoking, high blood pressure, obesity, and diabetes. All four of these pathologies are linked to less healthy brains, according to a recent research paper published in the European Heart Journal.
These pathologies are linked to less healthy brains
The study looked at seven different vascular risk factors associated with different parts of the brain. The strongest links were with the areas of the brain that are known to be required for complex thinking skills; the areas that deteriorate with Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and dementia.
Researchers examined MRI scans of the brains of 9,772 people
The researchers, led by Dr Simon Cox, a senior research associate at the Centre for Cognitive Ageing and Cognitive Epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh (UK), examined MRI scans of the brains of 9,772 people, aged between 44 and 79, who were enrolled in the UK Biobank study – one of the largest groups of people from the general population to have data available on brain imaging as well as general health and medical information.
Researchers looked for correlations between various brain structures and these 7 vascular risk factors
The researchers looked for correlations between various brain structures and these seven vascular risk factors: smoking, high blood pressure, high pulse pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol levels, and obesity as measured by body mass index (BMI) and waist-hip ratio. All of these have been linked to dysfunction in blood supply to the brain, which could lead to lowered blood flow and some of the abnormal changes seen in AD.
This is the only factor that did not negatively affect the brain
The only factor that did not negatively affect brain health was high cholesterol. All of the other vascular risk factors were associated with brain shrinking, less grey matter, and less healthy white matter. The more vascular risk factors a person had, the less healthy of a brain they had.
Dr Cox said: “The large UK Biobank sample allowed us to take a comprehensive look at how each factor was related to many aspects of brain structure. We found that higher vascular risk is linked to worse brain structure, even in adults who were otherwise healthy. These links were just as strong for people in middle-age as they were for those in later life, and the addition of each risk factor increased the size of the association with worse brain health.
“Importantly, the associations between risk factors and brain health and structure were not evenly spread across the whole brain; rather, the areas affected were mainly those known to be linked to our more complex thinking skills and to those areas that show changes in dementia and ‘typical’ Alzheimer’s disease. Although the differences in brain structure were generally quite small, these are only a few possible factors of a potentially huge number of things that might affect brain ageing.”
The 3 vascular risk factors showing the most consistent associations across all types of brain tissue types measured
Smoking, high blood pressure and diabetes were the three vascular risk factors that showed the most consistent associations across all types of brain tissue types measured. High cholesterol levels were not associated with any differences in the MRI scans.
Razi Berry is the founder and publisher of the journal Naturopathic Doctor News & Review that has been in print since 2005 and the premier consumer-faced website of naturopathic medicine, NaturalPath. She is the host of The Natural Cancer Prevention Summit and The Heart Revolution-Heal, Empower and Follow Your Heart, and the popular 10 week Sugar Free Summer program. From a near death experience as a young girl that healed her failing heart, to later overcoming infertility, chronic fatigue syndrome, and fibromyalgia through naturopathic medicine, Razi has lived the mind/body healing paradigm. Her projects uniquely capture the tradition and philosophy of naturopathy: The healing power of nature, the vital life force in every living thing and the undeniable role that science and mind/body medicine have in creating health and overcoming dis-ease. Follow Razi on Facebook at Razi Berry and join us at Love is Medicine to explore the convergence of love and health.