AGING
January 5, 2010

Healthy Hearts, Brains, Linked

Seniors who ate the most fruits and vegetables had better cognitive function and reduced risk of heart disease.

A new study presented at the annual meeting of the American Heart Association suggests that there may be a triangular relationship between what you eat and your mental and cardiovascular health. The study comes from researchers at the Drexel University School of Public health and the University of Pennsylvania.

To investigate this relationship, the researchers, led by Lonjian Liu, followed over 4,800 participants who were over the age 70 for an average of seven years. All participants had participated in the U.S. Longitudinal Study of Ageing in the 1990s and lived in senior communities.

Breaking it down, those who scored in the lowest quartile on cognitive tests had a 55% greater risk of dying from heart disease, and a 51% increase risk of dying from any cause, than those with higher scores.

Liu and his team found several interesting associations between the three variables. Seniors who ate the most fruits and vegetables every day had a markedly reduced risk of dying from heart disease or from any other cause. These individuals also had a decreased risk for suffering from the cognitive problems that often come with old age, like loss of memory, general thinking skills, and the ability to problem−solve. Further, those with the highest scores on cognitive function tests were less likely to die from heart−related problems. Breaking it down, those who scored in the lowest quartile on cognitive tests had a 55% greater risk of dying from heart disease, and a 51% increase risk of dying from any cause, than those with higher scores.

Liu sums up the findings by saying that the “study highlights that an increase in vegetable intake and better cognitive function has significant effects on the reduction of death from heart disease, as well as death from all causes in older adults. Basically, this shows that even as an older adult, you should still eat your vegetables.”

The study adds to a growing body of evidence that is unraveling the association between heart and brain health, and how these factors are affected by the compounds we put in our bodies.

The study was published in the November 3, 2009 issue of the American Heart Association journal Circulation.

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