‘Brain shrinkage’ and fatal illness linked to bad heart health in your 30s, researchers warn

Experts have discovered a link between the cognitive age of your brain and your cardiovascular health at different stages in your life – with a lax approach to heart health in your mid-30s said to cause “brain shrinkage.”

Researchers at University College London (UCL) found that having an unhealthy heart can age your brain, which scientists measured by tracking the size of participants’ brains over a long period of time. Those with worse heart health aged 36, and then 69, were found to have brains sometimes 10 or 20 years older than their biological age.

The study hopes that understanding the link between the health of your heart, and the speed with which age-related diseases like Alzheimer’s progress, could help doctors identify people “at risk” of accelerated brain ageing before they even reach middle age.

Those with a brain age of around 70 had greater brain shrinkage and were shown to score worse on cognitive tests. Men were also found to have smaller brains, in general, than women of the same age.

Professor Jonathan Schott, from UCL’s Dementia Research Centre, said: “We found that despite people in this study all being of similar real ages, there was a wide variation in how old the computer model predicted their brains to be.

“We hope this technique could be a useful tool for identifying people at risk of accelerated ageing, so they may be offered early targeted prevention strategies.”

The study also found that those with deteriorated heart and circulatory health by ages 36 and 69 also faced higher prevalences of cerebrovascular disease, which affects the flow of blood through vessels in your brain – a condition linked to dementia.

The study tracked the health of participants throughout their lives, which gave researchers insight into what lifestyle factors influenced their brain health.

In order to calculate the ages of the more than 500 study participants, researchers used AI machine learning to analyse each of their MRI brain scans and determine the extent to which the vessels in the brain had shrunk.

Speaking to the Sun, Alzheimer’s Research UK’s Dr Sara Imarisio said the study explicates the “complex relationship between the different factors influencing people’s brain health throughout their life”.

“Using machine learning, researchers in this study have uncovered yet more evidence that poorer heart health in midlife is linked to greater brain shrinkage in later life.