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Heart Disease Risk Factors Affect Brain Function

New research published recently in the American Heart Association journal Stroke shows that brain function in young adults may decline as their risk factors for heart disease increase.

Lead author Hanneke Joosten, M.D., a nephrology fellow at the University Medical Center in Groningen, The Netherlands states that while people think that risk factors such as smoking and obesity are bad for the heart, they are not aware that these are also bad for the brain.

The study included around 3,800 participants aged 35- to 82-years who underwent mental function tests that measured their ability to reason, plan and initiate and switch tasks. Another test evaluated their memory function. The Framingham Risk Score was used to determine the participants’ risk for cardiovascular events in the next 10 years.

The results showed that participants who had the most risks factors for heart disease performed 50% worse on cognitive (mental) tests compared to those with the lowest risk profile. Poor cognitive scores were linked to overall Framingham Risk Score, age, diabetes, bad cholesterol and smoking. Of these, smoking and diabetes were the strong determinants of mental function. Heavy smokers had memory scores and mental ability scores that were lower than light smokers.

Joosten believes that it is possible that smoking cessation might not only prevent cancer, stroke and cardiovascular events, but may also prevent cognitive damage. Therefore, health professionals must be aware of the cognitive function of patients with risk factors for cardiovascular disease, especially those that are modifiable like smoking and obesity.


American Heart Association. Increases in heart disease risk factors may decrease brain function. ScienceDaily.

Posted in: Brain Health, Cigarette Smoking, Heart Disease, News Briefs

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