Smoking, High Blood Pressure, and Obesity Cause Brain Shrinkage

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Brain Model

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We all know that smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity do terrible damage to our bodies, but I think it is safe to say we always assumed they left us cognitively sound. According to a new study, this may not be true as these four conditions in middle age appear to cause brain shrinkage and contribute to cognitive problems. As The Frontier Post reports, Charles DeCarli, MD, and colleagues at the University of California Davis published a study in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

In the study, DeCarlie states, “these factors appeared to cause the brain to lose volume, to develop lesions secondary to presumed vascular injury, and also appeared to affects its ability to plan and make decisions as quickly as 10 years later.”

He continued saying, “our findings provide evidence that identifying these risk factors early in people of middle age could be useful in screening people for at-risk dementia and encouraging people to make changes to their lifestyle before it’s too late.”

The study followed 1,352 people with dementia from the Framingham Offspring Study with an average age of 54. They found that those with high blood pressure developed matter hyperintensities, or small areas of vascular brain damage, at a considerably faster rate than peers with normal blood pressure reading. They also showed rapidly worsening scores on tests of executive function.

Those with diabetes lost brain volume in the hippocampus, and smokers lost overall brain volume and in the hippocampus at a faster rate than nonsmokers. They were also more likely to have a rapid increase in white matter hyperintensities. People who were obese in middle age were more likely to be in the top 25 percent of those with the faster rate of decline in scores on tests of executive function.

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