Monday, October 24, 2011

Altering Lifestyle Habits Halt Brain Shrinkage and Cognitive Decline

The result of a new study published in the journal Neurology (the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology) has found that poor lifestyle habits and related health disorders such as smoking, overweight and obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure cause brain shrinkage and cognitive decline.

Researchers determined that these conditions when present during middle age predicated lower brain volume and precursor markers for dementia up to a decade later. Identifying and controlling these risk factors early is a critical step in preventing loss of cognitive function and memory in later life.

Detrimental Lifestyle Practices Directly Impact Brain Health
To conduct the study, researchers examined a cohort of 1,352 people with an average age of 54 from the Framingham Offspring Study. The participants were weighed and body mass index and waist circumference were established along with blood pressure and cholesterol tests and blood glucose readings to detect for diabetes. Additionally, MRI brain scans were completed over the course of a decade with the first test performed seven years after the original biomarker benchmark.

Researchers found that those participants with high blood pressure developed a condition identified as `white matter `hyperintensities` or small areas of damage to the delicate vessel structure of the brain. Hypertensive participants were much more likely to demonstrate worsening scores on tests of executive function compared to those with normal blood pressure readings. The study authors found that this single factor negatively affected planning and decision making processes and corresponded with five to eight years of premature chronological brain aging.

Smoking Cessation and Controlling Diabetes and Obesity Key to Improved Cognition
Diabetes in middle age was associated with loss of brain volume in the memory-forming hippocampus region at a much faster rate than non-diabetics. Smokers were found to experience both accelerated brain volume shrinkage and white matter hyperintensities at a much faster rate than non-diabetic participants that did not smoke. Obese individuals were in the top quarter of those most likely to display loss of executive function and rapid rate of cognitive decline.

The lead study author, Dr. Charles DeCarli concluded that the four studied risk factors “provide evidence that identifying these risk factors early in people of middle age could be useful in screening people for at-risk dementia and encouraging people to make changes to their lifestyle before it`s too late”. Poor lifestyle choices are well known to contribute to a host of potentially lethal conditions and this body of research continues to add to the existing evidence. Health-conscious individuals will insist on a well balanced reduced calorie, low-refined carbohydrate diet along with regular physical activity to prevent obesity, hypertension, diabetes and cognitive decay.

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