Most patients associate having high cholesterol, high blood pressure and high blood sugars with their risk of having a heart attack, stroke or developing type 2 diabetes. A fascinating new look at some old data from the famous Framingham study has found that these risk factors also accurately predict the 10 year risk of developing cognitive decline and dementia. Some symptoms of cognitive decline could include forgetfulness, difficulty following instructions, trouble making decisions or irrational thoughts and emotions.
Another 2013 study in Sweden took these findings further by following approximately 500 women at high risk of a heart attack or stroke, as determined by the Framingham risk assessment. This assessment takes into account blood pressure, cholesterol levels, age and smoking. Some of the women in the study were treated with 81mg aspirin per day. At the end of the study, researchers found that the women who regularly took aspirin had a significantly reduced risk of developing dementia.
How can our cholesterol levels, blood pressure or blood sugar levels predict this? What we know is that cholesterol is produced by the body in response to inflammation, which can be caused by a long list of things, but the most common causes are high blood sugar levels from high sugar and high carbohydrate diets, consumption of inflammatory foods such as trans fats or food preservatives, emotional and physical stress, cigarette smoking and exposure to chemicals or heavy metals. The reason that the women taking aspirin in the Swedish study had reduced risk of dementia is because aspirin is a powerful anti-inflammatory.
Chronic inflammation resulting from chronically high cholesterol, blood pressure or blood sugar leads to damage to blood vessels that deliver blood and nutrients to all areas of the body. If blood vessels in the brain become damaged they compromise the body’s ability to deliver oxygen and nutrients to nerve cells and to carry away waste products. This leaves our brain cells unable to repair themselves well. Cells in our brain, particularly nerve cells, do not reproduce and if they cannot repair, they will die. The more nerve cells we lose, the more likely we will develop brain damage leading to cognitive impairments.
The truly exciting thing about the information from these studies is that it gives us information on how to screen for and prevent dementia. Cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar can all be easily tested and monitored, and then treated. Managing these risk factors through a clean diet, natural anti-inflammatory foods and herbs, exercise and stress management is crucial to keeping our brains healthy!