Women’s Brain Health Tied to Heart Disease

Although men are more likely to suffer from heart problems, strokes, diabetes, and high blood pressure than women, middle-aged women with heart disease experience a greater decline in cognitive abilities than men, according to new research.  The study, recently published in the journal Neurology, also found that diabetes, heart disease, and high levels of fat in the blood were linked with a drop in language scores among women only.

As reported in the Daily Mail, researchers from the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota analyzed data from 1,857 volunteers without dementia between the ages of 50 and 69 at the start of the study. Of the study participants, 79 percent had at least one cardiovascular condition or risk factor.   The volunteers were evaluated every 15 months for three years with memory, language, executive function, and spatial skills tests. 

Heart disease was linked with a significantly stronger association to cognitive decline in women compared with men.  Congestive heart failure was associated with a language score decline in men only.  Although researchers say further study is needed to determine why men and women were affected differently, prior studies suggest that hormones, genetics, lifestyle, or structural brain development could be factors that help to explain the disparity.  

Cardiovascular disease and risk factors do not guarantee middle-aged and older women will experience cognitive decline, but the research may warrant early monitoring for certain at-risk groups. 

The takeaway?  Protecting your heart health in middle and older age also helps to protect your brain health.   Stopping smoking, controlling high blood pressure and diabetes, getting regular physical activity, managing stress, and eating a heart-healthy diet may also help protect the brain by slowing down cognitive decline and reducing the risk for dementia.  A Mediterranean diet that includes vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes, low-fat dairy, fish, and moderate alcohol intake is associated with a reduced risk for poor cognitive function.  Avoiding fried foods, salty snacks, desserts, high-fat dairy, and drinks with added sugar is also linked with heart and brain health. 

Learn more about nutrition and brain health by following this link to the Brain&Life website.