Heart over head: weak pumping linked to smaller brain

November 16, 2010 by  

People are supposed to be rational and shouldn’t let their heart rule over their minds. But the human anatomy and physiology say otherwise: When the heart stops, brain damage and death follows. However, a person can be brain dead for long periods of time while the heart still continues to beat.

A recent study by researchers at the Alzheimer’s Disease Center of the Boston University School of Medicine showed that a weak heart with less pumping ability can lead to a prematurely aging brain. The data was based on study of 1504 people as part of the Framingham Heart Study. The study participants were practically healthy, and had no history of stroke, heart attack or dementia. The average age was 61 years old and 54% were women. Assessments included cardiac index calculated as cardiac output/body surface area measured by cardiac magnetic-resonance imaging (MRI). Brain volume was also assessed using MRI. The results of the study indicate a strong correlation between cardiac index and brain volume, with smaller volumes observed among those with lower (yet normal) cardiac index. Lower cardiac index is indicative of decreasing cardiac function whereas smaller brain volume is indicative of brain atrophy that may be due to premature brain aging

According to researcher and author Angela Jefferson

“Individuals in the lowest or middle cardiac index groups had brain volumes that appeared about two years older than the individuals in the highest or healthiest cardiac index group.’’

Experts think that the results are cause for concern because smaller brain volume is also linked to mild cognitive impairment, early dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.

Is there something we can do about this?

Dr. Jefferson says there is. Regular exercise keeps the heart active and its pumping ability strong. If we maintain our cardiac function through physical activity, we reduce the risk for having a prematurely aging brain.

So think and use your brain, if you must, but keep your heart strong. At the end of the day, the heart wins over the mind.

Is it chemo brain or something else?

November 9, 2010 by  
Filed under CANCER

Chemo brain is common complain among cancer survivors who underwent chemotherapy. It is a condition described as “a mental fog and inability to concentrate that persist long after treatment” and has been assumed to be a side effect of chemotherapy.

A few examples of chemo brain manifestation (source: American Cancer Society, ACS) are given below:

But is it really the chemotherapy that causes this problem dubbed by experts as “mild cognitive impairment?”

Researchers at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine looked at data collected by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) from 2001 to 2006. A total of 9819 adults aged 40 and older were studied. Of these, 1305 had a history of cancer. The subjects were asked the following question:

“Are you limited in any way because of difficulty remembering or because you experience periods of confusion?”

Results of the survey showed:

  • 8% of those without cancer history reported some form of memory impairment.
  • 14% of those with cancer history reported similar impairment.
  • After controlling for confounding factors, the likelihood among the cancer survivors to have memory impairment rose to 40%. Yet, some of these people have not undergone chemotherapy.

The researchers believe that this impairment may be due to a lot of things (and not only chemotherapy), such as:

chemotherapy, radiation or hormonal therapy, or to something about the disease itself which can change brain chemistry, or to psychological distress.

In fact, the term “chemo brain” is actually an inaccurate, even misleading term.

According to lead author Dr. Pascal Jean-Pierre, the so-called chemo brain is becoming national problem but can be treated by behavioral interventions and medications (e.g. antidepressants).

The ACS also lists the following factors that can contribute to cognitive impairment of cancer patients:

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NOTE: The contents in this blog are for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as medical advice, diagnosis, treatment or a substitute for professional care. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health professional before making changes to any existing treatment or program. Some of the information presented in this blog may already be out of date.