Doctors examined the brain scans and medical data of 22,000 volunteers enrolled in the UK Biobank Project and found significant structural changes in gray and white matter in people with diabetes and hypertension.
The same individuals were affected by cognitive tests that measured their speed of thinking and short-term memory, raising the possibility that the medical condition was driving mental decline.
“Remarkably, the findings suggest that it is possible to detect the negative effects of cardiovascular risk factors, such as blood pressure and diabetes, on cognitive function and brain structure in otherwise healthy people.” Neuroscience at the Newfield Department of Clinical Neuroscience at the University of Oxford.
“The major implication is that these risk factors do not have an impact on later effects in life – the risk of developing dementia – they also have an impact on current levels of brain and cognitive function in mid-life,” he said Added.
The study found that for people on treatment, systolic blood pressure above 140 mm, when measured when the heart is contracting, was associated with lower cognitive performance. “For blood pressure, every millimeter of pressure in your arteries counts, even among those who are not on any treatment. The higher the pressure, the worse it is.
Writing in a journal called Nature Communications, researchers point out that the link was strongest among people between the ages of 44 and 69, but had little influence in the 70s. Effects on cognitive performance are small, mental processing slows by a fraction of a second, but given that it takes only one millisecond for information to pass through an synapse in the brain, even small cognitive decline May affect work.
Volunteers’ short-term memory was tested with an online pair-matching game, while measuring reaction times and recording their mental processing speed. Both were performed on the same day as the brain scan.
Previous studies have shown that high blood pressure and diabetes in mid-life may increase the risk of dementia later, but the latest findings suggest that the condition may affect the brain before more severe cognitive decline develops.
In the UK, one in 10 people over 40 live with type 2 diabetes, while one in four have high blood pressure, a condition known as “silent killer” as it increases the risk of heart attack and stroke. But rarely causes the first symptoms.
Hussein believes the findings may have important implications for public health. Doctors often do not treat lightly raised blood pressure, but research suggests that this may be a false opportunity.
“We can find out that even a small increase in blood pressure still affects the brain. It is not surprising that if it is allowed to continue for decades, it can have a cumulative effect on brain structure and function, ultimately making it vulnerable to dementia, ”he said.