Study Links Heart Disease, Cognitive Impairment in Women

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, and here’s important news for you – everything that’s good for menopausal women’s hearts is also important for their brain health!


    A new study out of the Mayo Clinic investigates the association between cardiac disease and mild cognitive impairment (MCI). In this study, 2,719 participants were evaluated at the start of the study and then every 15 months afterwards for about four years. The evaluation consisted of the Clinical Dementia Rating scale, a neurological evaluation and neuropsychological testing. The researchers reached a consensus on whether each participant had normal cognitive, MCI or dementia. In addition, the researchers looked at each participant’s medical records to determine if the participant had heart disease at the beginning of the study.

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    The researchers found that 361 of the 1450 participants who did not have cognitive impairment at the start of the study did develop MCI during the study. Furthermore, cardiac disease was found to be associated with an increased risk of nonamnestic  MCI (naMCI), which includes impairments in language, visuospatial awareness and attention. According to the University of California Davis Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center, less than two percent of people with this type of mild cognitive impairment go on to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.


    Interestingly, the Mayo Clinic researchers also found that there is a stronger association for this to happen in women.  “Prevention and management of cardiac disease and vascular risk factors may reduce the risk of naMCI,” they stated.


    This information is important for women to know, especially as they go through menopause when their risk for heart disease increases. The Cleveland Clinic reports that nearly half of all deaths in women after the age of 50 are due to some type of cardiovascular disease; in fact, this cause of death represents more deaths from all cancers combined. Women who have gone through menopause may be at an even greater risk if they have any of the following risk factors: diabetes; smoking; high blood pressure;  high LDL (low density lipoproteins), which is the “bad” cholesterol; low HDL (high density lipoproteins) , which is the “good” cholesterol; obesity; an inactive lifestyle; or a family history of heart disease.


    How can women who have gone through menopause reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease? The Cleveland Clinic recommends that women stop smoking and avoid those who do. “Smokers have twice the risk of heart attack than nonsmokers,” the clinic’s website states. “Second-hand smoke also increases the risk of heart disease.”


    Another recommendation involves remaining at a healthy weight since the heart has to work harder to pump blood throughout your body when you weigh more. A third recommendation involves exercising for 30-40 minutes at least three times a week, but more if possible. Being active helps lower high blood pressure and cholesterol and improves blood glucose levels; it also helps you maintain a healthy weight and reduces stress.


  • Diet is the fourth recommendation. Try to follow a diet that is low in saturated fats as well as trans-fat. You should also try  to eat a diet that’s high in whole grains, legumes, fruits, vegetables, fiber, fish, soy and folate-rich foods (which, according to the George Mateljan Foundation, include the following top sources:  lentils, pinto beans, garbanzo beans, spinach, black beans, navy beans, kidney beans, collard greens, turnip greens and lima beans).

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    The Cleveland Clinic also recommends taking one adult aspirin daily (if approved by your doctor) and also considering taking a vitamin supplement. In addition, be sure to treat medical conditions – such as  diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure – that are known risk factors for cardiovascular disease.


    So it’s good to know that taking care of your heart can also help you take care of your brain. Now where did I leave those car keys?


    Primary Sources for This Sharepost:


    Cleveland Clinic. (2011). Diseases & conditions: Menopause.


    George Mateljan Foundation. (nd). Folate.


    Roberts, R. (2013). Cardiac disease associated with increased risk of nonamnestic cognitive impairment: stronger effect on women. JAMA Neurology.


    University of California, Davis Alzheimer’s Disease Researcher Center.  (nd). Diagnose: Mild cognitive impairment.

Published On: February 04, 2013