Brain shrinkage associated with four factors. What can you do starting today to prevent this?

If you could do four things to dramatically reduce your risk of brain shrinkage (especially that caused by dementia, vascular dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, or stroke), would that be of interest to you?

The Los Angeles Times “Booster Shots” blog reported that these four factors …

  • smoking,
  • diabetes,
  • hypertension, and
  • “being overweight in middle age” …

… may all cause “the brain to shrink” according to a study published in the journal Neurology.

After assessing 1,352 middle-aged people for vascular risk factors and following them until they underwent magnetic resonance imaging scanning and cognitive testing between the ages of 61 and 67, researchers found that “brain shrinkage was linked to ALL four risk factors, although the pattern differed in each case.”

People with hypertension “experienced a more rapid worsening of test scores of planning and decision-making, which corresponded to a faster rate of growth of small areas of vascular brain damage than those with normal blood pressure,” HealthDay reported.

“Those with diabetes in middle age experienced brain shrinkage in … the hippocampus faster than those without, and smokers lost brain volume overall and in the hippocampus faster than nonsmokers, with a more rapid increase of small areas of vascular brain damage.”

WebMD reported, “Obese people at middle age were more likely to be in the top 25% of those with the faster rate of decline in planning and decision-making skills.” Notably, study participants with a “high waist-to-hip ratio were more likely to be in the top 25% of those with faster decrease in their brain volume.”

So, what could you do to prevent this brain shrinkage? Although this study does not address this question, it seems reasonable to me that these four health actions may be significantly helpful:

  • if you smoke or use tobacco products, stop. If you cannot stop, talk to your family doctor who will be able to help.
  • if you have diabetes, be sure your A1C is below 7% and be sure to have your A1C checked every three months.
  • have your fasting blood sugar (FBS) or A1C checked every three to five years to be sure that you do not have undiagnosed diabetes.
  • if you have hypertension, be sure your blood pressure is controlled.
  • have your blood pressure checked every year. If the systolic is 120 or higher, OR the diastolic 80 or higher, talk to your doctor about what to do.
  • check your BMI every year. If it’s 25 or higher, talk to your family physician about what you can do to reduce or normalize it.
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