Study Shows That What’s Good For the Heart is Good For The Brain
These 7 factors reduced dementia risk in women by 42%
Hello, everyone. I hope I’ll be seeing many of you later today online for a free webinar I am giving: Brain Health Eating: Food vs. Supplements. Details below!
I am always excited to see a new study that focuses specifically on women and dementia. Women are more likely than men to be diagnosed with dementia, especially Alzheimer’s (about twice as likely), and yet large-scale female-specific scientific studies are rare. That’s one reason this April 2023 paper in the journal Neurology caught my eye. Researchers followed 13,720 women starting at mid-life to determine if following Life’s Simple 7—a strategy to reduce heart disease—could also impact dementia risk decades later.
Before we go into the study, it helps to remember two cornerstone concepts in Alzheimer’s prevention.
What’s good for the heart is good for the brain. Keeping your heart and blood vessels healthy throughout life can have a significant impact on keeping the brain healthy, too. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia, accounting for 70% of all cases. Vascular dementia is the number two cause, accounting for 20%. This stems from cardiovascular disease, specifically atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (ASCVD), commonly known as hardening of the arteries. But there’s also a huge overlap between these top dementia types: 50% of Alzheimer’s victims also have evidence of ASCVD affecting the brain.
Alzheimer’s begins 20 to 30 years before the first memory lapse. While Alzheimer’s is not usually diagnosed until after age 60, the pathology begins in the brain much earlier. That’s why lifestyle habits at midlife, such as what we eat and how much we exercise, are key factors in determining the risk of dementia—especially Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia—later.
In this new study, researchers followed this large group of women to see if they were diagnosed with dementia decades later. Of the 13,720 women enrolled in the study, 1,771 women (13%) ended up having dementia. Each woman was given a score based on seven health factors, a tool created by the American Heart Association called Life’s Simple 7.
Eat a healthy diet: a Mediterranean-style diet that’s mostly plant-based, includes fatty fish, and is devoid of ultra processed foods.
Keep blood pressure low: 120/80 mm Hg or less.
Reduce blood sugar: keep fasting blood sugar under 100 mg/dl.
Exercise: 150 to 300 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes per week of vigorous aerobic activity, or a combination of both. Add muscle-strengthening activity (such as resistance or weights) on at least 2 days per week. Spend less time sitting.
Maintain a healthy weight: based on body mass index.
Keep blood cholesterol favorable: LDL cholesterol under 100 mg/dl (the lower the better).
For each of the 7 health factors, women were given 1 point, with a total possible score of 7 for achieving all of them. The average score was 4.3 at the start of the study and 4.2 a decade later. After adjusting for factors such as age and education, researchers found that for every 1-point increase in the score, a person’s risk of dementia fell by 6%. Women who were able to maintain all seven factors had 42% less dementia decades later.
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