A new study undertaken by the University of Bordeaux in conjunction with other research centers in France suggests that older adults who take care of their heart are less likely to develop dementia than people who neglect their cardiovascular health.
Even when people didn’t hit optimal targets for cardiovascular health, they could still benefit from the attempt.
The study focused on seven recommendations from the American Heart Association (AHA) for achieving optimal cardiovascular health. The AHA recommendations were: not smoking; taking regular exercise; eating a diet rich in fish, fruit and vegetables; maintaining a healthy weight; and managing blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol levels within healthy ranges.
The study followed for an average of eight and a half years 6,626 people aged 65 or older who didn’t have dementia at the start of the research. During the period about 11 percent of the participants (745 people) developed dementia.
The researchers discovered that with each additional heart-health recommendation participants met, they were 10 percent less likely to develop dementia. It was found that each recommendation participants achieved led to correspondingly better scores in cognitive tests.
Adequate blood flow is essential to good heart and brain health but over time blood vessels can narrow and harden resulting in damage known as atherosclerosis which can increase the risk of strokes, heart attacks and cognitive decline.
Atherosclerosis can be kept at bay by maintaining a healthy lifestyle and keeping blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol levels within safe ranges. High blood pressure, raised cholesterol levels and excess blood sugar can damage blood vessels leading to complications that reduce the flow of blood to the brain.
The study was led by Cecilia Samieri from the University of Bordeaux who told Reuters, “Even when people didn’t hit optimal targets for cardiovascular health, they could still benefit from the attempt. From a pragmatic and public health perspective, promoting change in cardiovascular health from poor to intermediate levels may be more achievable and have a greater population-level effect than the more challenging change from poor to optimal levels.”
The study was unable to document that lifestyle changes directly impact cardiovascular health or reduce the overall risk of dementia and cognitive decline. The cardiovascular health of participants was only measured at the start of the study and could have changed over time, affecting their brain health.
A separate study published in JAMA which examined the same factors on cardiovascular health found that younger adults with optimal heart health experienced fewer changes in the brain linked to cognitive problems in later life.
Senior author, Paul Leeson from the UK’s University of Oxford told Reuters they had focused the study on young people, “because we thought that these changes in the blood vessels may occur before significant damage had occurred to the brain.”
Leeson added, “We were able to show that there are differences in the blood vessels related to levels of different risk factors and that these differences are evident in young adulthood.”
That study looked at 125 participants with an average age of 25. For each additional recommendation they followed for optimal heart health the subjects were found to have healthier blood vessels and a greater density of blood vessels in the brain.
Fifty-two of the participants had blood flow in their brain measured and it was found that with each additional optimal heart health recommendation achieved, the blood pumping through the brain increased significantly.
Consumption of olive oil has long been associated with improving heart health. A 2014 study confirmed that phenolic compounds found in plant-based foods including olive oil were beneficial to cardiovascular health and reduced the risk of developing heart disease.
A more recent a study conducted in 2016 confirmed that the Mediterranean Diet rich in olive oil was effective in improving brain function, slowing cognitive decline and reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s.