Cardiovascular Disease (CVD)
he underlying cause of cardiovascular disease (CVD) varies from person to person, with recent studies linking our increased risk to things that may seem on the surface to be quite unrelated to the heart, such as the effect of environmental pollutants and even our gut health.
There is a strong link between the different risk factors for Alzheimer’s, and in particular between high cholesterol, CVD and diabetes, all of which in themselves share an overlap in their own multiple risk factors. This overlap in CVD and Alzheimer’s includes hypertension, high LDL (bad cholesterol) and low HDL (good cholesterol) cholesterol, and diabetes. I am sure you can see a cyclical pattern emerging here!
Clinical studies of people with CVD have consistently shown an association with impaired cognitive function, which can be a precursor to Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. However, as with type 2 diabetes, CVD is preventable for most of us through making healthy lifestyle choices, which in turn will help reduce our risk of developing Alzheimer’s.
So how does CVD affect our risk of developing Alzheimer’s? The science community shares a number of different ideas, or what we refer to as hypotheses – those ideas we are continually testing to ensure we can definitively claim the evidence proves our idea is an actual fact.
The simplest explanation is that CVD and Alzheimer’s share a number of the same risk factors that may independently increase the rates of both diseases. Other explanations are that with detrimental changes and damage to the vascular (circulatory) system, such as stiffening of arteries within the body and brain itself, predisposes the brain to the process of neurodegeneration. One emerging field in this area is investigating how damage to the vascular system has an effect on the normal healthy clearance rate of accumulating plaques and tangles in the brain – the hallmark pathology of Alzheimer’s.
I’m including a number of papers below that look at the links between CVD and Alzheimer’s, that you may find of interest:
- Ferreira, Luiz K. et.al. (2014). The link between cardiovascular risk, Alzheimer’s disease, and mild cognitive impairment: support from recent functional neuroimaging studies. Revista Brasileira de Psiquiatria, 36(4), 344-357
- De Bruijn RF, Ikram MA. Cardiovascular risk factors and future risk of Alzheimer’s disease. BMC Medicine. 2014;12:130
- Alosco, M. L., & Hayes, S. M. (2015). Structural brain alterations in heart failure: a review of the literature and implications for risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Heart Failure Reviews, 20(5), 561–571
- Kivipelto Miia, et.al. Midlife vascular risk factors and Alzheimer’s disease in later life: longitudinal, population based study BMJ 2001; 322 :1447.
If you’ve already flicked through the previous risk factors for Advancing Age, Genetics etc., you will be seeing a repetitive pattern – the best way to reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer’s is quite simply through maintaining and sustaining a healthy lifestyle, which will give you the best opportunity for a healthy body and within that body, a healthy brain.
So, mixing it up a little from the previous sections, the following are the lifestyle measures science has determined will help lower your risk:
If you smoke, make sure you quit
Regular exercise that combines both cardio and strength training
Eating a healthy, balanced diet including healthy fats such as avocado, nuts and olive oil and reducing processed sugar
Keeping to a healthy body weight through diet and exercise
Managing your stress levels
Maintaining happy relationships.