If you look after your heart, you help your brain: diseases of the two organs are linked

    3 December 2015

    Researchers at the Erasmus University Medical Centre in Rotterdam have found a connection between the early stages of brain and heart disease. The results of the study were presented at the Radiological Society of North America’s annual meeting yesterday.

    The researchers looked at data from 2,400 healthy participants with an average age of 56. Participants were given MRI scans to look for markers of early brain disease, which include a loss of brain volume and the presence of white matter lesions, which indicate areas of cells that have been damaged by injury or disease. They also carried out blood tests which are used to help detect, diagnose and evaluate the severity of heart failure.

    The researchers found a correlation between participants with biomarkers of heart disease and poor microstructural organisation within the brain’s white matter. A statistical analysis confirmed the association.

    Hazel Zonneveld, the study’s lead author, said: ‘Heart and brain diseases are big problems in ageing individuals and are expected to grow even more. We know that myocardial infarction, heart failure and atrial fibrillation are associated with an increased risk of stroke and dementia. Our study investigates whether the heart-brain link is present at an earlier stage of disease.’

    Zonneveld says this is the first study to demonstrate an association between heart disease and the microstructure of the brain. ‘This implies that the heart and brain are intimately linked, even in presumably healthy individuals, and informs us importantly about development of disease as we age,’ she said.