Recent studies have pointed to various factors that may contribute to the gradual decline of mental acuity as we age. The good news is that these factors are at least somewhat preventable when we apply knowledge, good nutrition and healthy habits.
Some of those factors that can lead to cognitive decline include:
1. Inflammation. Inflammation is a protective process that the body uses to fight off pathogens and to respond to injuries. However the inflammation process can become a chronic condition in which the inflammation process occurs regardless of infection or injury. Chronic inflammation is associated with many health issues from allergies to arthritis. New research also suggests that chronic inflammation can lead to cognitive decline, most likely due to the way inflammation disrupts the integrity of the blood-brain barrier.
2. High blood pressure. Your brain relies on a constant, nourishing blood supply. High blood pressure can narrow and block the arteries supplying blood to the brain, which can lead to cognitive problems. Evidence suggests that high blood pressure occurring as early as middle age can increase the risk of dementia later.
3. Insulin levels. Both high blood glucose levels and high insulin levels have been linked to cognitive dementia.
4. Obesity. Particularly in middle age, obesity is strongly correlated with later dementia. Research conducted by the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research in Oakland, Calif. found that individuals who were obese (as measured by the body mass index) in their 30s and 40s were 74 percent more likely than those of a healthy weight to develop dementia.
5. Arterial inelasticity can lead to vascular dementia, a term for cognitive impairments associated with impaired blood flow in the brain. Vascular dementia is the second most common form of dementia, behind Alzheimer’s.
6. Metabolic syndrome is a name given to a cluster of conditions that increase the risk of heart disease, diabetes and accelerated decline in brain health. The symptoms of metabolic syndrome are strongly correlated with obesity, including accumulation of fat concentrated around the waist, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and high blood sugar levels.
7. Anxiety and depression are linked with increased risk of cognitive impairments, possibly as a result of the high levels of cortisol released through chronic psychological distress.
You can develop strategies now to preserve brain function. The maxim, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is good advice.
Good nutrition and a healthy lifestyle are beneficial to brain health and should be part of a daily health routine. A healthy nervous system is also dependent on keeping blood pressure and body weight in check, avoiding diabetes and its precursor, metabolic syndrome, as well as treating depression and anxiety disorders.
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