Link Found Between Childhood Cardiovascular Risk Factors and Future Lower Cognition

There is an association between the presence of cardiovascular risk factors in adolescence and a lower cognition later in life, regardless of the exposure experienced during adulthood.
Published Online: July 16, 2017
Alison Rodriguez
There is an association between the presence of cardiovascular risk factors in adolescence and a lower cognition later in life, regardless of the exposure experienced during adulthood.

In a study published by the Journal of the American College of Cardiology (JACC), data was analyzed from the Cardiovascular Risk in Young Finns Study to investigate a sample of 3,596 from childhood to adulthood. The follow-up included a series of cognitive testing, as well as the measurements of cardiovascular risk factors like blood pressure, cholesterol, triglycerides, body mass index, and smoking exposure.

"These findings support the need for active monitoring and treatment strategies against cardiovascular risk factors from childhood," Suvi Rovio, PhD, the study’s lead author and a senior scientist at the Research Centre of Applied and Preventative Cardiovascuar Medicine at the University of Turku in Turku, Finland, said in a statement. "This shouldn't just be a matter of cognitive deficits prevention, but one of primordial prevention."

Risk measurements were separated for childhood (6 to 12 years old), adolescence (12 to 18 years old), young adulthood (18 to 24 years old), and early life (6 to 24 years old). Through these categories, the study was able specifically define the worsening of midlife cognitive performance among those with high blood pressure and cholesterol in childhood, adolescence and young adulthood. Smoking in adolescence and young adulthood also linked to a decrease in cognition, specifically in memory and learning.

Study participants between the ages of 6 and 24 years who had all risk factors within the recommended levels performed better on cognitive testing than their counterparts who exceeded all risk factor guidelines at least twice. The difference corresponded to the effect of 6 years of aging.

Individual factors during childhood and early life impact future aging of cognitive performance. The researchers found that those with the highest blood pressure had a difference in cognitive age of 8.4 years compared to those with the lowest blood pressure. When considering those with high versus low cholesterol there was a 6.6 years difference and a 3.4 years difference between smokers and those who do not.

"Recent evidence has demonstrated that risk factors developed in adulthood can impact cognitive dysfunction in the elderly, if they have not been corrected," said Valentin Fuster, MD, PhD, MACC, editor-in-chief of JACC. "The findings in this paper are important, because they show that risk factors that develop at an even younger age can have the same adverse impact."

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