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Medical Conditions That Affect the Brain

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Sarah Bahader

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It is no surprise that physical and mental health are very much related. Doctors often say, “What’s good for the heart is good for the brain.” This is because the brain relies on vital supplies of oxygen and nutrients that are pumped to it by the heart. For that reason, taking care of physical health means taking care of the brain health as well. In order for you to help your brain function at its best and protect it from decline that comes with age, you should know that you’ll need to pay attention to your physical health and attend to it.

This article presents some of the common medical conditions that affect brain health and cognitive functions. My advice, especially for those readers who happen to have any of the mentioned conditions, is not to merely read this article and throw it at the back of their minds. Though, my advice for you is to put some effort to understand what these conditions can actually lead to, and hopefully take a set of serious steps towards avoiding probable negative consequences (in that case it’s definitely cognitive decline and impairment).

Heart Disease and Strokes

Generally speaking, conditions which compromise your heart and blood vessel flexibility form a threat to your cognitive health. That’s because the brain relies on the continuous flow of oxygen supplied by the body, and any condition that affects this flow will inevitably affect the brain too.

Some examples of these conditions are heart disease and strokes. Heart disease is known to contribute to developing dementia and cognitive decline. Stroke damage can occur in two forms, either one big stroke that destroys brain connections or a series of small strokes that also reduce brain connections but gradually and slowly. Stroke damage in general can lead to a type of dementia called vascular dementia.

It is important to know that risk factors for these diseases can be prevented through following several steps recommended by the American Heart Association, these seven steps have the ability to lower your risk for heart disease and protect your brain in the process:

1. Manage your blood pressure with diet, exercise, weight loss, and medicine.

2. Control your cholesterol levels with diet, physical activity, and weight loss.

3. Reduce blood sugar by losing weight, eating healthfully, and increasing your physical activity.

4. Get active by doing at least 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise, or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise.

5. Eat better — more fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, skinless poultry, fish, nuts, and vegetable oils.

6. Lose weight by burning more calories than you take in each day.

7. Stop smoking by using nicotine replacement, medicines, or other strategies.

The good news is even if you weren’t following these strategies from a young age; these strategies can still improve and protect your health. A study has shown that people who start implementing these strategies in their lives by the age of 50 are less likely to develop dementia later in life. I hope that’s given you a bit of motivation to push yourself forward and towards embracing a healthier lifestyle!

Moving on to Diabetes..

What diabetes mainly does is that it increases sugar levels in the blood, and this consistent high blood sugar levels can be very damaging, not only to the brain, but also to different body parts and organs like eyes, kidneys, heart and nerves.

Indeed, high blood sugar levels can cause reduction of white and gray matter inside the brain. This consequently leads to shrinkage of a brain part called hippocampus (responsible for the forming new memories and consolidating information from short-term memories into long-term memories).

The other form of diabetes, which manifests in abnormal insulin levels, also impacts the brain but in a different way. Body cells as well as brain cells require insulin to grow and function, however, people with this type of diabetes develop insulin resistance and cells become resistant to this hormone. This resistance in believed to contribute to developing dementia. “The connection between insulin and dementia is so strong that some researchers have nicknamed Alzheimer’s disease “type 3 diabetes.”

In short, diabetes is known to affect brain plasticity, which means it can impair your ability to learn, cope with life challenges and preserve your cognitive health. It can lead to memory and attention problems, and impacts other cognitive skills. The same lifestyle routine that protects the heart and brain—including exercise and a healthy diet—can avert diabetes, or at least delay its onset. And in people who already have diabetes, careful blood sugar control, using healthy lifestyle changes and medication, is essential to preventing cognitive damage, plus it will promote their overall health.

Soon we will be covering more on that matter, obesity, concussion and types of dementia— including Alzheimer’s. Keep following!

References

American Heart Association, (2018), My Life Check | Life’s Simple 7, American Heart Association, Retrieved on May 17, 2021

Watson, S. (2020), A Guide to Cognitive Fitness, Harvard Health Publishing, Retrieved on May 17, 2021 https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/a-guide-to-cognitive-fitness

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