New research published in the journal Neurology has shown that people who have premature cardiovascular disease, defined as cardiovascular disease occurring before the age of 60, are more likely to have worse brain health and cognition in midlife.
The study included over 3,000 participants who were part of the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults Study and who were aged 18–30 years at baseline. They were followed for up to 30 years, when they were given five cognitive tests. Additionally, a subset of the participants had brain MRIs to measure white matter health. Participants were an average age of 55 years old at the end of the study. Premature cardiovascular disease was measured using medical records and compared to the results of the cognitive tests and brain MRIs.
The results showed that, after adjusting for other factors, premature cardiovascular disease was associated with worse cognition, verbal memory, processing speed, and executive function. Additionally, premature cardiovascular disease was associated with worse white matter health and accelerated cognitive decline over 5 years. The results were significant even after adjusting for the occurrence of strokes and transient ischemic attacks (strokes that last for only a few minutes), both of which have previously been associated with cognitive impairment. About 5% of the study population had premature cardiovascular disease, and the average age at which their first cardiovascular event occurred was 48 years old.
The lead author of the study noted that preventing and addressing cardiovascular disease early, in one’s 20s and 30s, could be crucial for protecting cognition and brain health later in life. By following healthy heart recommendations early, such as exercising regularly, getting enough sleep, and eating a diet based on whole foods, we can potentially delay cognitive declines later in life.
Sources: Neurology, Science Daily