Smoking, hypertension, diabetes, and obesity are associated with unhealthy brains

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A new study investigated the association between vascular risk factors such as smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes, and BMI, and the structure of the brain.

 

Non-pathological brain ageing is a brain condition more prevalent than dementia. It can cause functional consequences that seriously impede that independence and quality of life of the elderly. Neurovascular health is an important factor in preserving cognitive health in the ageing adult. In fact, cerebral small vessel disease causes about 45% of dementia cases and about 20% of strokes worldwide, but the reason for this is still unknown.

Cox and colleagues decided to look at the associations between different vascular risk factors and the macrostructure and microstructure of the brain, specifically in community-dwelling adults aged between 44 and 79 years. The risk factors included in the study included smoking, hypertension, diabetes, and body mass index. The study was published in the European Heart Journal.

It was found that smoking, hypertension, diabetes, and obesity were associated with greater brain atrophy, lower grey matter volume, and reduced white matter health. The effects of these risk factors were small in size but were additive, which converged to the frontal and temporal cortex and subcortical structures.

The study did include some limitations, however, specifically that the age range investigated did not include those over the age of 79, which may present different results. Furthermore, the vascular risk factors each individual suffered from was self-reported, introducing a bias.

Although the effect of vascular risk factors on brain health is small, we now know that the brain is increasingly vulnerable when introduced to reduce vascular health, even in healthy middle-aged and elderly individuals.

Written by Unaisa Bhayat, BMedSc

Reference: Cox S. R. Lyall D. M., Ritchie S. J., Bastin M. E., Harris M. A., Buchanan C. R., Fawns-Ritchie C., Barbu M. C., de Nooij L., Reus L. M., Alloza C., Shen X., Neilson E., Alderson H. L., Hunter S., Liewald D. C., Whalley H. C., McIntosh A. M., Lawrie S. M., Pell J. P., Tucker-Drob E. M., Wardlaw J. M., Gale C. R., Deary I. J. Associations between vascular risk factors and brain MRI indices in UK Biobank. European Heart Journal. 2019; 00: 1-11.

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