1.17.2005

Let Your Heart Rule Your Head
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Here is more evidence on the key of treating your heart well to maintain a high-degree of cognitive function....from the UK

CHOOSING dried fruit instead of biscuits in the supermarket or walking briskly uphill to the shops, unofficially racing other pedestrians: we know these things are good for our heart. Yet what many people do not realise is that those same actions could help to protect against dementia. Research increasingly points to good diet and exercise as being a way of both treating dementia and preventing it in the first place.

A recent report suggests that making sure your heart stays healthy is one of the best ways of looking after the brain and slowing the process of memory loss, confusion and cognitive problems which affect more than 750,000 sufferers in the UK.

The comprehensive review of studies on mixed dementia, vascular dementia and Alzheimer's Disease, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, goes so far as to suggest that controlling blood pressure and cholesterol might be a more effective treatment than medication and may even prevent some forms of dementia.

One study reviewed by the researchers at the University of Michigan showed that the incidence of dementia in a group of patients with high blood pressure reduced by half when they were treated over four years with a drug designed to reduce hypertension.

Other evidence has emerged suggesting that reducing cholesterol may help brain function, after researchers noticed that people with high cholesterol in middle age are more likely to develop mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer's disease.

Kenneth Langa, who led the team of researchers at the University of Michigan Health System, says: "Having risk factors like high blood pressure and high cholesterol does damage to small blood vessels in the brain and can cause death of brain cells over time."

Developing dementia is a potential aspect of growing old that is widely feared. Depictions of it in films books and TV programs have helped to raise awareness, yet confusion persists about what causes it and what can be done to treat it.

Relatives of those with dementia often believe they are more likely to develop the condition themselves, and those with the disease often worry their children and grandchildren will inherit it.

But in almost no case is it caused by an inherited fault. Having close relatives with dementia is not evidence of a family link, says Jim Jackson, chief executive of Alzheimer's Scotland. "Some people still do perceive it as being a genetic illness, but it is only a very small proportion of cases. In nearly all cases where it is genetic, the dementia starts when the person is under the age of 65."

Vascular dementia occurs if there is a blockage in the vascular system, preventing oxygen from reaching the brain and causing brain cells to die. Several factors - such as age, genetic background and lifestyle - work together and lead to the onset of Alzheimer's disease, the most common form of dementia. Mixed dementia - a combination of Alzheimer's disease and vascular dementia, common in the elderly - is partly triggered by poor blood flow in the brain.

Some types of vascular disease are hereditary, but in the main it is people with high blood pressure, a high level of fats in their blood or diabetics who are at an increased risk of developing vascular disease.

Jackson says the significance of the review is that it goes further than the claims of other leading researchers, who have said that the prevalence of vascular dementia can be reduced through measures such as taking exercise, not smoking and having a healthy diet. The new research makes similar claims for people with mixed dementia.

He adds, however, that further research on the benefit of treatments for Alzheimer's sufferers is vital. When the researchers assessed the evidence relating to drugs that reduce cholesterol or thin the blood, they discovered that prospective studies on cholesterol drugs called statins have not shown a specific effect on dementia.

It is still uncertain whether complementary therapies, such as treatments involving vitamin E and ginkgo biloba, could help slow down the onset of dementia.

Evidence for the benefits of taking ginkgo biloba is encouraging as it appears to have some effect on mental function, but few side effects. One review of studies says that a diet rich in vitamins, minerals and other micronutrients may prevent cognitive decline.

Another hope is that aspirin therapy, which thins the blood and reduces clotting, thereby

THE FACTS

Dementia is the loss of cognitive function caused by changes to the brain, brought about by disease or trauma. Cognitive functions that may be affected include decision making, judgment , memory, spatial orientation, reasoning, verbal communication and changes in behaviour and personality.

Some dementia is reversible and can be partially or completely cured if the underlying cause is treated very quickly. Irreversible dementia is caused by an incurable condition such as Alzheimer's.

The greatest risk factor for dementia is aging. Other factors include untreated infectious disease, substance abuse, brain tumours, cardiovascular disease, head injuries, kidney failure, liver disease, thyroid disease and vitamin deficiencies (B12, folic acid).

There is no failsafe way to prevent dementia, but a healthy lifestyle and diet can reduce your risk. Smoking and high fat intake can cause heart or blood vessel disease, which stops oxygen reaching the brain properly and can lead to vascular dementia.




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