Rethinking Healthcare

New connections between heart and mind

Posting in Healthcare

The same bad habits threatening your heart today may threaten your mind tomorrow. The same moderation we preach in middle age can help you in later life.

One of the most interesting research trends of our time is the link between Alzheimer's and heart disease.

I have long been dimly aware such a link was possible. My grandfather (right) died of Alzheimer's, in 1986. My father died of heart disease in 1999.

Whether you get the second, it now turns out, depends a lot on how you manage the first. If your cholesterol is high in mid-life (and mine was until I was 47) your risk of Alzheimer's goes up. Smoke and your risk rises 75%.

These are broad population studies indicating we are on the right track in seeking treatments for Alzheimer's.

Simple things that keep blood flowing, like coffee, can help against the disease. Even some red wine with dinner may help. The link between cholesterol-lower statins and prevention, however, remains unproven.

Here is another intriguing Alzheimer's fact. There are links between the disease and diabetes. Proper regulation of blood sugar can cause the disease's amyloid beta plaques from forming.

Alzheimer's develops when a specific type of amyloid beta plaque forms in the brain, called soluble dimer amyloid betas. These clumps get between the synapses of the brain and interrupt them. Drugs aimed generally at amyloid betas don't seem to work.

What this points to is a more holistic view of health, and to Alzheimer's treatment. The same bad habits threatening your heart today may threaten your mind tomorrow. The same moderation we preach in middle age can help you in later life.

For me, however, the lesson is schylla and charybdis. After burying his own father, my dad came to visit me in Atlanta, and over a lot of alcohol he spoke movingly of his fear that his own mind would go like that.

His heart gave out first. Looking back on that memory, what do you think I'm supposed to think?

Dana Blankenhorn

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Dana Blankenhorn has written for the Chicago Tribune, Advertising Age's "NetMarketing" supplement and founded the Interactive Age Daily for CMP Media. He holds degrees from Rice and Northwestern universities. He is based in Atlanta. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure