Vascular Risks Are Linked to Unhealthy Brain: Fresh Study Shows

A brand new study reveals that lifestyles resulting in vascular risks are connected to the health of our brains.
Jessica Miley

A brand new study reveals that lifestyles resulting in vascular risks are connected to the health of our brains. A group of scientists published a paper in the European Heart Journal based on studying thousands of MRI scans.

Powered by Biobank UK

The research group’s aim was to discover and examine associations between factors that influence the health of our blood vessels and differences in brain parts. The researchers scrutinized the brain MRI scans of 9,772 people using the database of the Biobank UK study.


‘UK Biobank is a major national and international health resource (…) with the aim of improving the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of a wide range of life-threatening illnesses - including cancer, heart diseases, etc. (…) UK Biobank recruited 500,000 people aged between 40-69 years in 2006-2010 from across the country to take part in this project.’ 

The scientists, led by senior research associate Dr. Simon Cox (Centre for Cognitive Ageing and Cognitive Epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh), looked at the almost ten thousand brain scans of people aged between 44-79. All of whom had been scanned by the same machine in Cheadle, Manchester.

Associations between vessel and brain health

The scientists searched for associations between brain structure and vascular risk factors. The following well-known risk factors were in the focus of the study: smoking, high blood pressure, high pulse pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol levels, and obesity.


These risk factors have proven negative impact on the brain’s blood supply. What they found, though, is far more unsettling than one would have thought. Their research showed that except high cholesterol levels, all of the other vascular risk factors could be linked to brain shrinkage.

Moreover, the research revealed that the more vascular risk factors a patient had, the poorer was their brain health, in addition to brain shrinkage, they detected less grey matter and less healthy white matter. Grey matter is the tissue found mainly in the brain’s surface, while white matter is the tissue in deeper parts of the brain.

‘The large UK Biobank sample allowed us to take a comprehensive look at how each factor was related to many aspects of brain structure. We found that higher vascular risk is linked to worse brain structure, even in adults who were otherwise healthy. These links were just as strong for people in middle-age as they were for those in later life, and the addition of each risk factor increased the size of the association with worse brain health.’ - Dr. Cox summarized the research.

Three factors showed the most consistent links: smoking, high blood pressure, and diabetes. All of them showed associations across all types of brain tissues. 

What can we do then, to ensure that not only our brains but also our bodies serve us well? Once again, a healthy lifestyle and diet are vitally important. Consuming more vegetables, fruits, and grains, possibly coming from organic farmers can decrease those vascular risks, as well it can fight diabetes.

Don’t think twice, eat healthily and get moving, so that you can understand all the news on Interesting Engineering's website!

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