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At first glance, heart disease and dementia
may seem to ave little in common, but these two chronic
degenerative conditions appear to have a common underlying
This was recently revealed by new research looking at how
to best test for your future risk of these conditions. It turns
out that the same test that predicts your future risk of heart
disease is better at predicting your risk of dementia than a
specific dementia-risk test.
Heart Disease Test Better at Predicting Dementia Risk.
During the 10-year study, middle-age participants were tested
for their risk of both heart disease/stroke and dementia.
While the heart disease and stroke risk tests factored in age,
blood pressure, cholesterol levels, smoking and diabetes, the
dementia risk test included such factors as education, body-mass
index (BMI), and whether the participant had a gene associated with
The heart disease and stroke risk scores were taken from the
Memory and thinking abilities were tested three times over the
study duration, and each time all three tests were able to predict
However, the heart disease and stroke risk tests had a stronger
association with dementia risk, suggesting that they are better tools
for predicting future cognitive decline than the dementia risk test.
This makes perfect sense, since many of the risk factors associated
with heart disease are also associated with poor brain health as
Heart Disease and Dementia Have Similar Risk Factors
The sooner you realize that your entire body is interconnected,
and imbalances or damage occurring within it can impact your health
on multiple levels, including leading to numerous chronic diseases,
This is certainly the case with heart disease, stroke and dementia,
which share several underlying risk factors; for instance, arterial
plaque. If plaque builds up in your carotid arteries, the blood flow
to your brain can be compromised, since your carotids are the primary
arteries serving your brain.
This arterial obstruction can lead to many different serious
conditions, including stroke, heart attack and dementia.
Diabetes is another risk factor for both heart disease and
Alzheimer’s, a form of dementia. And while it’s widely known that heart
disease is often caused by a poor diet, recent research showed that
Alzheimer’s disease may have dietary roots as well.
It's becoming increasingly clear that the same pathological process
that leads to insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes may also hold true
for your brain.
As you over-indulge on sugar and grains, your brain becomes
overwhelmed by the consistently high levels of insulin and eventually
shuts down its insulin signaling, leading to impairments in your thinking
and memory abilities, and eventually causing permanent brain damage.
Insulin resistance is the basis of all of the chronic diseases
of aging, including heart disease, dementia and diabetes.
One of the Best Tests for Determining Your Heart Disease Risk
Most conventional heart-disease risk tests factor in your
cholesterol levels as a primary component of the score. But you can
have low or normal LDL (“bad”) or total cholesterol and still be at
high risk from heart disease. Alternatively, you can have high or
normal total or LDL cholesterol yet be at low risk.
I recently spoke with Chris Kresser, L.Ac., an acupuncturist
and a licensed integrative medicine clinician, who has investigated
risk factors for heart disease and promotes the use of a relatively
novel method for assessing your heart disease risk based on your
LDL particle number.
According to Kresser, this is a much more accurate predictor of your
heart disease risk.
“To use an analogy: if you imagine your bloodstream’s like a
river, the LDL particles are like the boats that carry the cholesterol
and fats around your body. The cholesterol and fats are like cargo in
the boats. Right now doctors are usually measuring the amount of cargo
or cholesterol in the LDL particles.
But what we should be measuring is the number of LDL particles,
or the number of boats in the river, so to speak, because that’s a much
more accurate risk factor for heart disease.”
Where to Find the LDL Particle Test: NMR LipoProfile
The NMR is a relatively expensive test so another inexpensive
alternative to determine if you have a large number of LDL particles is
to simply measure your triglyceride:HDL ratio. Ideally that ratio should
be below 2.0. However, clearly the NMR is a more precise measure of LDL
particles. Some groups, such as the National Lipid Association, are now
starting to shift the focus toward LDL particle number instead of total
and LDL cholesterol, but it still has not hit mainstream. Fortunately,
if you know about it, you can take control of your health and either
ask your doctor for this test, or order it yourself.
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