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Healthy heart keeps brain healthy

Volunteers with lowest cardiac index had "older" brains on scans than others. The brains of such volunteers had aged two more years, as against their counterparts who had the highest cardiac index.

If you are young at heart, you’ll be young at brain too. Putting it medically, people with healthy and fit heart run a lower risk of brain aging, US researchers say.

Researchers at the Boston University School of Medicine found that people with sluggish heart had faster brain aging, almost two years older than those with healthy heart.

Details of the study
For the study, 1,504 people, including 54 percent women, averaging 61 years of age were enrolled. The participants had already participated in the larger study known as the Framingham Offspring Study.

While no participant was known to have heart problems, 10 percent were smokers, 9 percent had diabetes and 28 percent had high blood pressure, study report revealed.

"Those with the lowest cardiac index and the middle group both had smaller brain volumes than those with the highest cardiac index," study's lead author, Angela Jefferson, an associate professor of neurology at the Alzheimer's Disease Center at Boston University School of Medicine, said.

Using neuropsychological tests, lab reports, and MRI scans of the brain and heart, the researchers assessed the cardiac index and brain volume of each participant.

Cardiac index is the volume of blood pumped in relation to the body size.

Volunteers with lowest cardiac index had "older" brains on scans than others. The brains of such volunteers had aged two more years, as against their counterparts who had the highest cardiac index.

Surprisingly, people with normal cardiac index too showed signs of early aging, nearly two years.

"Those with the lowest cardiac index and the middle group both had smaller brain volumes than those with the highest cardiac index," study's lead author, Angela Jefferson, an associate professor of neurology at the Alzheimer's Disease Center at Boston University School of Medicine, said.

Smaller brain volumes on magnetic resonance imaging implied brain shrinkage. Severe shrinkage or atrophy is linked to dementia.

The brain volume, however, did not affect the brain’s cognitive function.
Participants with smaller brain volume reportedly showed no signs of reduced cognitive function.

The cause
Though the exact cause behind the decreased brain volume is still unclear, Jefferson believes a sluggish heart pumps lesser volume of blood, reducing blood flow to the brain.

A contained blood flow to the brain provides ‘lesser oxygen and fewer nutrients needed for brain cells’, Dr. Jefferson said.

"Our results definitely suggest that cardiac health is related to brain health," she noted.

Eating right, observing a healthy exercise regimen, being watchful about body weight, not smoking and managing high blood pressure, cholesterol, and diabetes will result in healthy heart.

A cardiac index, as high as possible, can potentially stave-off brain volume decline, Jefferson said.

The team now plans to study if the decrease in brain volume affects cognitive function in later years.

The study has been published in this week’s edition of 'Circulation.'