Alzheimer's & Dementia Specialist Kihei HI
By Catherine Guthrie
New studies show the heart and brain are connected by more than just poetry and puns. Indeed, researchers say high levels of heart-busting cholesterol might also make brain cells more prone to brain-busting dementia.
My family tree is riddled with heart disease. Growing up I listened to my father and aunts swap hospital stories and cardiologists’ phone numbers over buckets of Kentucky Fried Chicken.
Eventually, their conversations about stents and statins gave me a ticking-time-bomb mentality about my own heart. I don’t deserve to be labeled a hypochondriac, but I did see my doctor roll her eyes the last time I asked her to double check my cholesterol. She assured me I’m one of her healthiest clients. Aside from swearing off meat, I feast on organic fruits and veggies, lope around the neighborhood with my dog, and twist myself into yoga poses that make my relatives wince.
But as the years tick by, I’ve worried that protecting my heart is only half the battle. When I’ve blanked on the name of a street or the title of a favorite book, I’ve wondered if I should expend more energy preserving my gray matter. After all, 30 years from now what satisfaction will I glean from a healthy low-density lipoprotein (LDL, the “bad” cholesterol) score if I don’t remember to care? But a spate of new studies has eased my anxiety and added new resolve to my heart-healthy habits. According to the experts, the efforts I’m making to protect my heart now may be the brain boost I’m after in the future.
In fact, new studies show a healthy heart actually may be one of the best-kept secrets to preventing dementia. And holding onto one’s wits is no small feat. Roughly 4.5 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease, the leading cause of dementia. By 2050, the Alzheimer’s Association expects that number to potentially quadruple to 16 million. Aging baby boomers are only partially to blame for the senility glut. Added to the equation are the effects that rising tides of heart disease and diabetes will have. Truth be told, the more scientists discover about the roots of dementia, the more they are shifting their focus from the brain to the heart.
What affects the heart also affects the brain
The recipe for heart health rattles off the tongue as easily as the Pledge of Allegiance: fill your plate with fruits and vegetables, get plenty of exercise and steer clear of artery-clogging evils such as trans fats. But while Americans are conditioned to strive for clean arteries, we rarely apply the same logic to the blood vessels in our brains. Yet, both heart and brain rely on healthy circulation.
Indeed, the brain is a voracious consumer of the body’s blood and oxygen supply. Of the blood flow from the heart, roughly 20 percent goes straight to the head. Although a tissue-paper thin barrier protects the brain from direct contact with blood (a safeguard against potentially harm-ful toxins), nutrients easily pass through the blood-brain barrier. Circ...
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