The same things that can tank your heart now may wreck your brain later

If you want to keep your heart healthy, you know that certain numbers are important to keep in check: your weight, your blood pressure, and your blood sugar levels, for starters.

Habits that damage the heart can wreck the brain.

But focusing on those factors isn’t just doing your heart good—your brain may benefit, too. That’s because those same factors might play a role in the development of Alzheimer’s disease, researchers from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine discovered.

In the study, researchers assessed 346 middle-age participants for prevalence of heart risk factors. They discovered that those with more risk factors—which included an obese body mass index of 30 or above (BMI), current smoking status, high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol—were significantly more likely to have elevated levels of amyloid proteins in their brains nearly 25 years later. That’s important, since amyloid buildup has been linked to Alzheimer’s.

In fact, for people who had two or more risk factors, their risk of high levels of amyloid nearly tripled.

But obesity stood out on its own as a super-important factor, separate from the risk seen with a cumulative number: Those with a BMI of 30 or above at middle age were twice as likely to have elevated amyloid later on.

These risk factors are all considered vascular issues, meaning that they some way affect the function of your blood vessels. The researchers aren’t quite sure how that raises the risk of Alzheimer’s, but they think it may be possible that dysfunction in your arteries—particularly in the smallest branches of them—may make it more difficult to clear out the amyloid proteins, allowing it to build up.

The good news, though, is that lifestyle changes can keep many of these factors in check: Losing as little as 5 percent of your bodyweight if you’re overweight or obese can help improve measures of heart health, as we reported.

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