Getting to the Heart of Brain Health

The results of a new study confirm the close relationship between brain and heart health.

The study published in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association (often abbreviated JAMA) followed 15,744 adults for 25 years. During the study, 1,500 of the participants developed dementia. When the authors looked for risk factors leading to dementia development they discovered that the same risk factors that are associated with heart disease–obesity, smoking, diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol–also increased the risk for developing dementia.

More than 1,500 cases of dementia were identified among the participants at the conclusion of the study, showing that the same risk factors associated with heart disease in midlife increase the risk for dementia later on.

Why are heart health and brain health so connected?

The brain depends on an ongoing supply of oxygen-rich blood for the nourishment of its cells.  About 15 percent of the blood that the heart pumps goes to the brain. The same problems with the blood vessels, such as stiffening of arteries or blockages that contribute to heart disease, affect the blood supply to the brain.

Some other facts to consider:

  • High blood pressure causes damage to the brain that can develop into cognitive decline.
  • Heavy smokers are more than twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease as nonsmokers.
  • Having diabetes is as much a predictor of whether a person will develop dementia as the presence of the APOE4 gene, the gene associated with Alzheimer’s disease

What can you do?

Controlling your risk factors for heart disease has the added bonus of protecting your brain. Maintain a healthy weight through exercise and a heart-healthy diet. Quit smoking if you do and be sure to take any cholesterol or blood pressure medications your doctor may have prescribed.

For more information on the heart-brain connection and how you can keep both in good shape, visit