MONDAY, Feb. 21 (HealthDay News) -- Hypertension and high
cholesterol may be linked to losses in memory and mental abilities
in middle age, a new study finds.
Researchers in France assessed data on about 3,500 British men
and 1,300 British women with an average age of 55 who participated
in Whitehall II, a long-term study that tracked British civil
Three times over the course of a decade, participants took tests
that measured their reasoning skills, memory, fluency and
vocabulary. The reasoning test was composed of 65 verbal and
mathematical questions of increasing difficulty, and the memory
test asked people to recall a list of 20 words. The fluency test
asked participants to do such things as name as many words as they
can, in one minute, that start with the letter "s" or name as many
animals as they can.
Participants were also given a what's called a Framingham risk
score, which takes into account a person's age, gender, cholesterol
levels, blood pressure, smoking history and diabetes status to
predict the chances of having a heart attack, stroke or other
cardiovascular problem sometime in the next 10 years.
Those who had poorer cardiovascular health were more likely to
do worse on tests of memory and mental ability than were those who
had better cardiovascular health, according to the study.
For example, a 10 percent higher cardiovascular risk score was
associated with a 2.8 percent lower score on the memory test for
men and a 7.1 percent lower score for women.
Over time, those who had worse cardiovascular health also saw
steeper declines in mental tasks, with the exception of reasoning
for men and fluency for women.
"We found that cardiovascular risk in middle age is related to lower overall cognitive function," said study co-author Sara Kaffashian, a doctoral student at INSERM, the French National Institute of Health & Medical Research in Paris. "We also observed a relationship between poor cardiovascular scores and overall cognitive decline over 10 years."
The study is to be presented in April at the American Academy of
Neurology's annual meeting in Honolulu. Experts note that research
presented at meetings has not been subjected to the same rigorous
scrutiny given to research published in medical journals.
Dr. Ralph Sacco, president of the American Heart Association,
said an increasing body of research is showing the importance of
cardiovascular health in maintaining brain function over a person's
"The link between cardiovascular health and brain health is becoming increasingly important and recognized," said Sacco, a professor of neurology, epidemiology and human genetics at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.
High blood pressure, diabetes, smoking, high cholesterol and
inactivity can contribute to a narrowing of the large blood vessels
throughout the body, but also the small blood vessels of the brain,
Those changes can reduce blood flow, which can "starve the brain
of oxygen and lead to changes in thinking, cognition and our mental
abilities," he said.
Though the people in the study did not have Alzheimer's, other
research suggests that hypertension, diabetes and poor
cardiovascular health are a risk factor for both Alzheimer's and
vascular dementia, he added.
"In the old days, we thought vascular risk factors only led to vascular dementia, but now we know vascular risk factors may also have an impact on Alzheimer's," Sacco said.
But the good news, he said, is that middle-aged adults can take
steps to improve cardiovascular health, including eating a proper
diet, exercising, controlling diabetes if they have it and, if
applicable, taking the correct medications for hypertension, Sacco
"There is a hopeful note, which is that by controlling your vascular risk factors, you may be able to reduce or forestall cognitive decline," he said.
The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute has tips for
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