The dangers of heart disease, or more specifically cardiovascular disease, are well documented. But research shows that it and other heart disease-related health conditions like high cholesterol, diabetes, and high blood pressure also raise your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. What’s the connection?
The Heart Feeds The Brain
Alzheimer’s disease is a distinct form of dementia, which the Mayo Clinic describes as a “group of symptoms affecting memory, thinking, and social abilities severely enough to interfere with daily functioning.” So how does heart disease affect your brain and the way you think? In the simplest terms, your brain needs plenty of oxygen-rich blood constantly flowing through it to keep it functioning at an optimum level. Reduce that blood flow and your brain responds accordingly - and perhaps resulting in an eventual Alzheimer's disease diagnosis.
Think about it like this: your brain is a light bulb and your blood is the electricity powering it and keeping it shining brightly. When your house loses power during a thunderstorm, you may experience a blackout when the power goes out completely or what’s known as a brownout when the lights dim, but don’t go out. Dementia is comparable to a brownout except it’s slower and progressive, so the power can’t get back up to its specified levels and restore the bulb’s original brightness. The catch is that the dementia “brownout” happens over an extended period of time – and usually so slowly that it’s hardly noticed for years. Interestingly enough, the factors causing that blood restriction – clogged arteries, for one - form over the several years leading up to that gradual brownout.
Vascular dementia results from congested blood vessels in the brain itself. In either case, the result is the same - without enough power the brain simply cannot operate to its full capacity and what were once simple, virtually instinctual decisions become confusing, unfamiliar puzzles.
Exercise and a healthy diet help keep your cholesterol levels down, diabetes at bay, and your blood pressure in check. And research is showing us that your brain is a major beneficiary of all that effort with an apparent reduced vulnerability to Alzhemier's. Maintain a healthy body and your brain will thank you for it.