Monday, October 24, 2011

Altering Lifestyle Habits Halt Brain Shrinkage and Cognitive Decline

The result of a new studypublished in the journalNeurology (the medical journal of theAmerican Academy of Neurology) has found that poor lifestyle habits and relatedhealth disorders such as smoking, overweight and obesity, diabetes and highblood pressure cause brain shrinkage and cognitive decline.

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

Detrimental Lifestyle Practices Directly Impact Brain Health
To conduct the study, researchersexamined a cohortof 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 wereestablished along with blood pressure and cholesterol tests and blood glucose readingsto detect for diabetes. Additionally, MRI brain scans were completed over thecourse of a decade with the first test performed seven years after the originalbiomarker benchmark.

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

Smoking Cessation and Controlling Diabetes and Obesity Key to ImprovedCognition
Diabetes in middle age wasassociated with loss of brain volume in the memory-forming hippocampus regionat a much faster rate than non-diabetics. Smokers were found to experience bothaccelerated brain volume shrinkage and white matter hyperintensities at a muchfaster rate than non-diabetic participants that did not smoke. Obeseindividuals were in the top quarter of those most likely to display loss ofexecutive function and rapid rate of cognitive decline.

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

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