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Alzheimer's Disease Health Center

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Poor Heart Health Linked to Alzheimer's Risk

Brain plaque builds up as arteries stiffen, study suggests


Over two years, the percentage of patients with plaque in their brain increased from 48 percent to 75 percent. Moreover, the development of plaque was associated with increased stiffness of arteries, the research team found.

Dr. Sam Gandy, director of the Center for Cognitive Health at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, welcomed the study.

"One of the most important problems in clinical dementia is parsing out what role brain blood vessels play in the clinical status," Gandy said. "This is a groundbreaking paper that promises to put us on an evidence-based course toward unraveling this mystery."

Dr. Gregg Fonarow, professor of medicine and associate chief of the division of cardiology at the University of California, Los Angeles, agrees that dementia and arterial stiffness may be related.

"There is increasing evidence that arterial stiffness plays not just an important role in cardiovascular disease but also in cerebrovascular disease, impaired mental function and dementia in older individuals," he said.

More research of the relationship between high blood pressure, high cholesterol, vascular disease, arterial stiffness and the development of dementia is needed, Fonarow said.

King noted that injury to the blood vessels in the brain may dramatically alter the onset and progression of Alzheimer's disease.

"The implication of this study is that we may be able to prevent or at least delay Alzheimer's disease by proper control of cardiac risk factors," King added.

Reducing heart risks means eating a healthy diet, exercising, maintaining normal weight, minimizing stress and not smoking. These behaviors can help keep blood pressure and cholesterol at safe levels, experts say.

But much still needs to be learned about the association between heart health and brain health, King said. "A lot remains unknown about what changes in arteries may be leading to chronic brain disease. We just don't know enough about blood flow to the brain."

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