By Catherine Guthrie, Natural Solutions
New studies show the heart and brain are connected by more than just poetry and puns. Indeed, researchers say high levels of heart-busting cholesterol might also make brain cells more prone to brain-busting dementia.
My family tree is riddled with heart disease. Growing up I listened to my father and aunts swap hospital stories and cardiologists’ phone numbers over buckets of Kentucky Fried Chicken.
Eventually, their conversations about stents and statins gave me a ticking-time-bomb mentality about my own heart. I don’t deserve to be labeled a hypochondriac, but I did see my doctor roll her eyes the last time I asked her to double check my cholesterol. She assured me I’m one of her healthiest clients. Aside from swearing off meat, I feast on organic fruits and veggies, lope around the neighborhood with my dog, and twist myself into yoga poses that make my relatives wince.
But as the years tick by, I’ve worried that protecting my heart is only half the battle. When I’ve blanked on the name of a street or the title of a favorite book, I’ve wondered if I should expend more energy preserving my gray matter. After all, 30 years from now what satisfaction will I glean from a healthy low-density lipoprotein (LDL, the “bad” cholesterol) score if I don’t remember to care? But a spate of new studies has eased my anxiety and added new resolve to my heart-healthy habits. According to the experts, the efforts I’m making to protect my heart now may be the brain boost I’m after in the future.
In fact, new studies show a healthy heart actually may be one of the best-kept secrets to preventing dementia. And holding onto one’s wits is no small feat. Roughly 4.5 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease, the leading cause of dementia. By 2050, the Alzheimer’s Association expects that number to potentially quadruple to 16 million. Aging baby boomers are only partially to blame for the senility glut. Added to the equation are the effects that rising tides of heart disease and diabetes will have. Truth be told, the more scientists discover about the roots of dementia, the more they are shifting their focus from the brain to the heart.
Next: The heart/brain connection (click through to end for printable version)