March 11 (UPI) -- Poor cardiovascular health may bring on diminished brain function, a new study says.
Smoking, obesity and diabetes, along with other risk factors like high blood and pulse pressure, are associated with brain shrinkage, according to research published today in the European Heart Journal. These risk factors reduce blood flow to the brain, which leads to diminished brain function.
The researchers say those cardiovascular risk factors decrease gray matter on the brain's surface and healthy white matter closer to its center. These are the same cognitive functions that begin to erode during the development of Alzheimer's disease.
In what British researchers call the world's largest research of its type, they studied nearly 9,800 MRI scans of people between ages 44 and 79 to draw their conclusions.
"The associations between risk factors and brain health and structure were not evenly spread across the whole brain; rather, the areas affected were mainly those known to be linked to our more complex thinking skills and to those areas that show changes in dementia and 'typical' Alzheimer's disease," Simon Cox, a researcher at the University of Edinburgh and study author, said in a news release.
"Although the differences in brain structure were generally quite small, these are only a few possible factors of a potentially huge number of things that might affect brain aging," he added.
This study supports past research that points to the link between cardiovascular and mental health.
"Lifestyle factors are much easier to change than things like your genetic code-both of which seem to affect susceptibility to worsen brain and cognitive aging. Because we found the associations were just as strong in mid-life as they were in later life, it suggests that addressing these factors early might mitigate future negative effects," Cox said.
"These findings might provide an additional motivation to improve vascular health beyond respiratory and cardiovascular benefits."