Washington DC: A new preliminary study has found that health issues in your 20s may lead to having problems with thinking, memory skills and the brain's ability to properly regulate its blood flow as you grow older. Health issues such as smoking, high cholesterol or a high body mass index (BMI) in your youth, may make you more likely to have a weak brain in your older age.
"These results indicate that people need to pay close attention to their health even in their early 20s," said study author Farzaneh A. Sorond, MD, PhD of Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago and a member of the American Academy of Neurology.
"We have known that vascular risk factors such as high blood pressure and high blood glucose levels are linked to cerebrovascular damage and problems with thinking skills in older people. But this study shows that these factors may be linked decades earlier and injury may start much earlier," Sorond added.
Studied for 30 years over the course, the team assessed cardiovascular health based on five factors - smoking, BMI, blood pressure, total cholesterol and fasting blood glucose level.
The researchers found that people with better cardiovascular health at the beginning of the study were more likely to have higher scores on the tests of thinking and memory skills 30 years later than those with worse cardiovascular health.
The results were the same after researchers adjusted for other factors that could affect thinking and memory skills, such as level of education. The people with better cardiovascular health at the beginning of the study and seven years into the study were more likely to have better cerebral autoregulation, or the body`s ability to maintain stable blood flow in the brain. This means that during changes in blood pressure, the brain is able to maintain adequate blood flow.
"More focus on a life course research approach is needed to help us better understand how these vascular risk factors affect brain health as we age," Sorond said. She noted that the study does not prove that better cardiovascular health results in better thinking and memory skills or the better ability of the brain to regulate blood flow. It only shows an association.
A limitation of the study was that researchers did not have cerebral autoregulation measured at each visit to better understand the relationship over time between cardiovascular health and brain blood flow regulation as they relate to midlife cognition.