05/06/2013 11:25 pm ET

Heart Risk Factors Affect Brain Functioning, Study Finds


Think high cholesterol, smoking and diabetes only affect your heart? Turns out your brain might be taking a hit, too.

New research published in the journal Stroke shows that factors known to raise the risk of heart disease could also negatively affect brain functioning -- even among people as young as 35.

"What's bad for the heart is also bad for the brain," study researcher Dr. Hanneke Joosten, M.D., a nephrology fellow at the University Medical Center in the Netherlands, said in a statement.

The study included 3,778 people between ages 35 and 82, who all underwent cognitive functioning tests and memory tests. Researchers also determined their Framingham Risk Score to see what their risk was of suffering some sort of heart event in the next decade.

Researchers found associations between heart health and brain health. For instance, people with the most heart risk factors did 50 percent worse on the cognitive functioning tests than people with the fewest heart risk factors. Smoking and diabetes seemed to be the biggest heart risk factors that affected cognitive functioning.

They also found that cigarettes in particular affected cognitive functioning, with people who smoked one to 15 cigarettes a day scoring 2.41 points lower than people who didn't smoke, and people who smoked 16 cigarettes or more a day scoring 3.43 points lower than people who didn't smoke.

"There clearly is a dose response among smokers, with heavy smokers having a lower cognitive function than light or non-smokers," Joosten said in the statement. "It is likely that smoking cessation has a beneficial effect on cognitive function."

Similarly, a study earlier this year conducted by Mayo Clinic researchers showed that women with heart disease are more likely to develop nonamnestic mild cognitive impairment (where their memory isn't necessarily lost, but they may experience other thinking problems), Everyday Health reported.



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