Smoking and high blood pressure may age the brain and affect thinking

(WebMD) — We already know that high blood pressure, smoking, obesity, and diabetes can affect how well the blood circulates. Poor blood circulation can have an effect on the brain and has been proposed as one cause of dementia.

Previous studies have looked at how these different ‘risk factors’ are linked to our thought processes and memory. In general, these studies found that having high blood pressure or diabetes was connected to a more marked decline in people’s memory and thinking skills compared to people who did not have these conditions. But none of these studies have focused specifically on middle-aged people.

What does the new study say?

A new study has found that high blood pressure, smoking, diabetes, and being overweight in middle-age may speed changes to the structure of the brain and lead to problems with thinking and the ability to act on decisions.

The study involved around 1,300 people with an average age of 54. None of them had dementia. At the start of the study, researchers took people’s measurements to see if they were obese or not, tested their blood pressure and gave them cholesterol and diabetes tests. They also had MRI brain scans during the course of a decade.

Researchers observed these people over a 10-year period. They found people with high blood pressure developed age-related changes in their brain at a faster rate than those with normal blood pressure readings. They also had a more rapid decline in scores on tests looking at their thinking and decision-making abilities.

The researchers found that the brains of people with diabetes in middle age had become smaller more quickly than those who did not have the condition. Smokers experienced more changes to their brain, and at a faster rate than non-smokers.

People who are obese were more likely to be in the top quarter of those whose scores on decision-making tests had declined the fastest over the 10-year study period. They were also more likely to be in the top quarter of those whose brain volume had decreased the most.


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