Smoke Gets in Your Brain

iStock

If you smoke, are overweight, or have hypertension or diabetes, your brain health may also be in jeopardy, according to a new study published in the European Heart Journal.

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh in the U.K. examined brain MRI scans of more than 9,700 people between ages 44 and 79, seeking a link between heart disease risk factors and changes in brain structure. Specifically, they looked at the effects of smoking, high blood pressure, high pulse pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol levels, and obesity (as measured by BMI and waist-hip ratio) on areas of the brain that control complex thinking — areas that typically deteriorate in people with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.

The researchers chose these risk factors because previous studies had shown they could reduce blood flow to the brain and lead to dementia. Other than high cholesterol, each of the other cardiovascular risk factors was associated with greater brain shrinkage and less gray and healthy white brain matter. The more risk factors for heart disease a person had, the worse their brain health.

Which factors had the most effect on brain health? Smoking, high blood pressure, and diabetes, say the researchers, and controlling these three can keep your heart and brain healthier.