Is Heart-Healthy Good for the Brain?


    Gloom and doom over the "tsunami" of baby boomers that is going to overwhelm everything from health care to the swimming pool is in the news daily. In fact, I'm getting pretty sick of being associated with a tsunami, but I'd better get used to it. When a phrase gets picked up that is dramatic and rolls of the tongue like that, it's not going to leave headlines anytime soon. 


    I do believe, however, that many of us who are in that group are in far better overall health than our parents were at the same age, and I don't believe we're all headed for the local nursing home tomorrow.


    My accountant runs marathons, and he's 51. In fact, we've now got a local marathon that is bringing in 12,000 plus people a year for the run (a whole town in this neck of the woods), and a large percentage of the runners are boomers.

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    Even if we're not running marathons, local metro gyms are flooded with boomers working out and striving to stay healthy enough to stay employed (through need or choice). We are learning new technology. We are also having physicals and are being nagged by our physicians to lose weight, exercise and keep our cholesterol levels in check, so we keep our arteries clear and our hearts healthy.


    This brings me to another study, this one on, titled "'Good' cholesterol dementia risk." The study suggests that what's good for the heart is also good for the brain. In the excellent book The Alzheimer's Action Plan, which I reviewed for OurAlzheimer's, that identical theme was revisited several times.  


    "Good cholesterol, or high-density lipoproteins (HDL), is considered critical in preventing heart disease, as is keeping levels of "bad" cholesterol down. This has been shown to help prevent strokes and vascular dementia for many people, as well.


    This study about HDL helping people avoid dementia is far from conclusive, though the numbers of people studied were fairly high. Both UK and French civil servants were studied. The total number was 3,673 people. As with most studies, there will be follow ups and probably studies that prove this theory wrong, so doctors likely will not, at least for some time, make diet suggestions or drug suggestions to prevent dementia, based on cholesterol levels.


    However, most of us have been told that keeping these levels in a good ratio, keeping the total below 200, exercising to help keep the levels good and to help the cardiovascular system function and our weight in check are all good things for our hearts. Good diet helps, too. The Mediterranean diet has received rave reviews for overall health. Leaning new things, and/or doing the same old thing in a different way, is also good for our brains.


    So, while the studies go on, good health choices we make now are bound to help something, if only our insurance rates. If, indeed, higher levels of HDL prove to help prevent dementia, that's great news, since so many of us have already been told to do what we can to raise these levels for our hearts. Many people even take medication to help get the results doctors like to see. So, wouldn't it be great to see that what we are already doing for our hearts is helping keep our brains healthy?


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    As with every health related issue, there will be people doing "everything right" who get hit with heart attacks and dementia. Even if, in the future, there are proven ways to treat prevent or treat dementia, there will be people who still succumb to it.


    However, I'm always excited to learn that there are ways available to use now that likely will keep us healthier, and some of these may help prevent dementia. Only time (and more studies) will tell.


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Published On: July 03, 2008