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A Healthy Brain Starts With a Healthy Heart

A Healthy Brain Starts With a Healthy Heart
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Summer 2019
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The evidence is stronger than ever before that a healthier heart is connected to a healthier brain. Results from the federally funded SPRINT MIND study are gaining widespread attention after being published in the January 2019 Journal of the American Medical Association.

The study shows that aggressively treating high blood pressure in older adults can help reduce the development of mild cognitive impairment (MCI). MCI causes a slight but noticeable and measurable decline in cognitive abilities, including memory and thinking skills. A person with MCI is at an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s or another dementia.

Researchers found a 19 percent reduction in risk of MCI in those who managed their systolic blood pressure — nearly 1 in 5 people. By reducing the risk of MCI, we are potentially helping to reduce new cases of dementia.

“The results of SPRINT MIND provide the strongest possible evidence we have to date to guide care for preserving brain health,” says the study’s principal investigator, Jeff Williamson, M.D., professor of Gerontology and Geriatric Medicine at Wake Forest School of Medicine. “I can now confidently tell my patients that getting their systolic blood pressure into the 120s is the one thing we can work on together to reduce their risk for cognitive impairment.”

While findings from the SPRINT MIND study are promising, more research is needed to fully understand the connection between heart health and brain health and what that means for lowering the risk of dementia. The Alzheimer’s Association is funding additional participant follow-up through SPRINT MIND 2.0 to better understand how aggressively treating blood pressure may be key to reducing risk of dementia.
 

Taking the research to heart

In addition to blood pressure, many risk factors, including genetics, lifestyle and environment, affect the development of dementia. But the initial results of the SPRINT MIND study point to compelling evidence that more carefully managing blood pressure could be one way to reduce your risk of MCI and, ultimately, dementia.

“Start by talking to your health care provider about your risk for Alzheimer’s and the best way to manage your blood pressure, especially if you are 50 or older,” says Dr. Maria Carrillo, Alzheimer’s Association chief science officer. “This is a conversation everyone should be having.”
 

5 ways to help manage your blood pressure

Dietary changes are one established way to manage your blood pressure. Below, Dr. Williamson shares a few nutritional tips that could pay off in a big way for your heart and your brain. Talk to your physician to find the best strategy for you.
 
  1. Reduce your sodium intake: Sodium can raise blood pressure, so avoid salty foods like deli meat, pizza and chips.
  2. Eat more potassium-rich foods: Foods such as bananas and leafy greens are shown to help lower blood pressure levels.
  3. Go dark: Research shows that eating a small square of dark chocolate every day can help reduce blood pressure.
  4. Incorporate omega-3 fatty acids: Fish like salmon, mackerel and herring are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which may positively affect blood pressure.
  5. Drink less alcohol: Consuming large quantities of alcohol can increase blood pressure, so it’s important to drink in moderation.

ALZ: A magazine of the Alzheimer's Association

As a trusted source of support and information about Alzheimer’s and dementia since 1982, the Alzheimer’s Association is an expert on the brain — the engine driving our ability to think, feel, remember, work and play. We launched ALZ magazine so we can share more about the body’s control center — and provide you with tips on how to make your brain a central focus of a healthy lifestyle. Want in on the next issue? Sign up here.

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