Specific cardiovascular risk factors such as alcohol consumption, smoking, obesity and diabetes, may damage the brain, thereby increasing the risk of Alzheimer's disease and dementia say researchers.
"We already know that vascular risk factors damage the brain and can result in cognitive impairment," said one of the researchers Kevin King, assistant professor of radiology at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.
"But our findings give us a more concrete idea about the relationship between specific vascular risk factors and brain health," King pointed out. The researchers examined the link between cardiovascular risk factors with three main brain regions, including the hippocampus, precuneus and posterior cingulate cortex.
Because of each region's connection to memory retrieval, gray matter volume loss in these areas may be a predictor of Alzheimer's disease and dementia.
The researchers analyzed results from 1,629 individuals and divided the participants into two age groups. There were 805 participants under age 50, and 824 of age 50 and above.
The study found that risk factors of alcohol use and diabetes were associated with smaller total brain volume, while smoking and obesity were linked with reduced volumes of the posterior cingulate cortex, the area of the brain connected with memory retrieval as well as emotional and social behaviour. In addition, lower hippocampal mass was linked to both alcohol consumption and smoking.
"We currently do not have effective treatments for Alzheimer's disease, so the focus is on prevention," King said. The study was published online in the journal Radiology