FRIDAY, March 22, 2019 (HealthDay News) — A higher number of vascular risk factors (VRFs) is associated with poorer brain health across gray and white matter macrostructure and microstructure, according to a study published online March 11 in the European Heart Journal.

Simon R. Cox, from the University of Edinburgh in the United Kingdom, and colleagues evaluated associations between VRFs (smoking, hypertension, pulse pressure, diabetes, hypercholesterolemia, body mass index, and waist-hip ratio) and brain structural and diffusion magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) markers among 9,722 participants in the U.K. Biobank (age range, 44 to 79 years).

The researchers found that a larger number of VRFs was associated with greater brain atrophy, lower gray matter volume, and poorer white matter health, although effect sizes were small. Higher aggregate vascular risk was associated with multiple regional MRI hallmarks of dementia risk, including lower frontal and temporal cortical volumes, lower subcortical volumes, higher white matter hyperintensity volumes, and poorer white matter microstructure in both association and thalamic pathways. The most consistent associations were seen with smoking pack years, hypertension, and diabetes across all brain measures. There was no association between hypercholesterolemia and any MRI marker.

“Though effect sizes were small, these results emphasize the vulnerability of brain health to vascular factors even in relatively healthy middle and older age, and the potential to partly ameliorate cognitive decline by addressing these malleable risk factors,” the authors write.

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