Link be­tween blood sup­ply and mem­ory?

The Record (Troy, NY) - - YOUR DAILY BREAK -

DEAR DOC­TOR » I’ve read that mem­ory is linked to the heart’s abil­ity to pump blood, with a re­duced abil­ity lead­ing to poorer mem­ory. Is there any­thing I can do to keep the blood flow­ing to my brain? DEARREADER » Our brains, like the rest of our bodies, rely on op­ti­mal blood flow for op­ti­mal func­tion­ing. But in the case of the brain, that means a larger vol­ume than you would ex­pect. While the brain ac­counts for just 2 per­cent of a per­son’s to­tal weight, a se­ries of spe­cial­ized anatom­i­cal pro­cesses en­sure that it gets a whop­ping 12 per­cent of the blood that flows through the body. And ac­cord­ing to the re­sults of an in­trigu­ing study pub­lished last fall, there ap­pears to be a link be­tween the brain’s blood sup­ply and cog­ni­tive func­tion.

The study, pub­lished on­line in the jour­nal Neu­rol­ogy, looked at a group of in­di­vid­u­als with an av­er­age age of 73 who are tak­ing part in the Mem­ory and Ag­ing Project at Van­der­bilt Univer­sity Med­i­cal Cen­ter in Nashville. This is an on­go­ing study that tracks the health and cog­ni­tive abil­i­ties of the par­tic­i­pants and an­a­lyzes the re­sult­ing data. In this par­tic­u­lar study, re­searchers se­lected 314 men and women, 39 per­cent of them di­ag­nosed with mild cog­ni­tive im­pair­ment. That means these study sub­jects had ex­hib­ited a de­cline in mem­ory, lan­guage, think­ing or judg­ment that was slight but mea­sur­able. The other study par­tic­i­pants had nor­mal cog­ni­tive func­tion. None had heart prob­lems or dis­or­ders, and none had de­men­tia.

Us­ing imag­ing tech­niques, re­searchers cal­cu­lated how much blood each per­son’s heart pumped in re­la­tion to his or her body size, a value known as “car­diac in­dex.” They also mea­sured the re­sult­ing vol­ume of blood flow in the brain. They found that a lower car­diac in­dex cor­re­lated to re­duced blood flow to the left and right tem­po­ral lobes, the mem­ory-pro­cess­ing ar­eas of the brain. The lead au­thor of the study char­ac­ter­ized the re­sult­ing re­duc­tion in blood flow as com­pa­ra­ble to what you would ex­pect to see in in­di­vid­u­als who were 15 to 20 years older.

All of which brings us to the heart. Re­ac­tion to the study is that the find­ings bol­ster what pre­vi­ous re­search has long sug­gested — there is a strong con­nec­tion be­tween the health of the heart and the health of the brain.

But the so­lu­tion may not be as sim­ple as join­ing a gym or head­ing out for a brisk walk. That’s be­cause of those phys­i­o­log­i­cal mech­a­nisms we men­tioned ear­lier in the col­umn, the ones that dole out a pro­por­tion­ally greater blood flow to the brain than to other parts of the body. Whether these mech­a­nisms are di­rectly af­fected by the health of the heart, or whether their de­cline is re­lated to ad­vanc­ing age or the on­set of cog­ni­tive de­cline is not yet known. The re­searchers them­selves state that their find­ings re­veal a link be­tween car­diac in­dex and blood flow to the brain, but do not sug­gest it is the cause.

Still, we think it wise to safe­guard the health of your heart. Don’t smoke, and if you do smoke, please quit. Eat well. Ex­er­cise daily. And see your fam­ily physi­cian for an an­nual checkup so if a prob­lem crops up, it can be caught early.

Eve Glazier + El­iz­a­beth Ko

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