- The researchers examined the relationship between brain age and various indicators of health.
- They found that poor cardiovascular health was associated with older brain age, which was associated with poorer cognitive performance and a smaller brain volume.
- They concluded that further research is needed to understand whether their findings hold for multiple demographics.
As the human brain ages, its structure changes. A person’s ‘brain age’ can be predicted by a computer model. This method uses MRI-based machine learning to compare an individual’s neuroanatomy with a large reference set of healthy brains.
If you subtract brain age from a person’s chronological age, you can calculate brain-predicted-age change (brain-PAD).
Studies have found that brain-PAD can predict 8-year mortality
Studying how brain age interacts with other physiological measures of health and health outcomes can improve our understanding of the aging process.
In a new study, researchers examined how brain-PAD relates to various health outcomes across the lifespan.
They found that brain PAD is associated with cardiovascular risk and neurodegeneration. They noted that their findings could be useful in understanding patient prognoses.
The findings were recently published in
For the study, the researchers included data from 456 individuals born in the same week in 1946 in Britain. Each person underwent 24 different assessments from birth on various factors, including:
- childhood cognitive ability
- recognition of adults
- socio-economic position of adults
- cardiovascular measures (eg, blood pressure, smoking status, and history of diabetes at ages 36 and 69)
- polygenic risk score (genetic risk for various diseases)
- MRI brain scan between 2015 and 2018
While the participants were an average of 70.7 years old at the time of the study, the average age predicted by their brains was 67.9 years. Women’s brains were on average 5.4 years younger than men’s after adjusting for chronological age.
The researchers found that brain age was significantly associated with higher cardiovascular risk, poorer cognitive performance and a smaller brain volume.
They also found that older brain age was associated with higher levels of neurofilament light protein (NfL). While NfL levels increase with age in healthy individuals, they are also associated with nerve damage.
Brain-PAD was further associated with atrophy of the anterior hippocampus, an early characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease. However, the researchers found no association between brain-PAD and various biomarkers for Alzheimer’s disease.
The researchers also reported no significant association between brain-PAD and childhood cognitive performance, education level, or socioeconomic status.
Overall, they reported that the 12 metrics calculated in their study could explain 33% of the variance in brain-PAD.
When asked what might explain the relationship between cardiovascular health and brain aging, Dr. Aaron Wagen, clinical researcher at University College London, one of the study’s authors, said Medical News Today:
“The brain is the most energy-demanding organ in the body, and therefore requires a constant supply of oxygen.”
“Any damage to the vascular system (eg heart, blood vessels) that affects the level of oxygenated blood supplied to the brain will have a negative impact on brain health, potentially resulting in cerebral small vessel disease , white matter lesions and brain atrophy. . These brain changes can occur as part of normal aging. However, poor heart health can mean they happen earlier than expected.”
— Dr. Aaron’s wagon
Dr. Lee A. Baugh, an associate professor of neuroscience at the University of South Dakota who was not involved in the study, also said MNT that cardiovascular risk factors, such as blood pressure and smoking status, are already associated with premature brain aging.
“The exact mechanisms by which cardiovascular health and aging in the brain are related are extremely complicated, but they certainly involve things like the distribution of blood flow in the brain, cardiac hemodynamics and arterial stiffness,” said Dr. Baugh.
“I think the most exciting question is whether the composite measure of cardiovascular health used in the current study is providing unique information above and beyond what these individual factors provide, and the answer to that question really requires further study.” That said, it’s great to see these kinds of connections being made between brain and body health,” he added.
MNT It also asked the researchers what might explain the differences in brain age between men and women.
“In this group, we have seen that women outperform men on several measures, including cognitive tests. The younger predicted brain age seen in women may reflect this, [alongside] overall changes in life expectancy in the UK population with women living longer than men. The mechanisms underlying this require further study, but cardiovascular health may contribute,” said Dr. Wagen.
The researchers concluded that their findings would enable further exploration of brain age and predict future decline.
Regarding the limitations of the study, Dr. Wagen noted that his study was conducted primarily on white British participants, and thus may not apply to other demographics.
Dr. Baugh noted that because of the way some of the statistical analyzes were performed, there is an increased likelihood of false positives or findings that do not exist. He noted that future research should examine the relationship with “conservative statistical approaches.”
He added that there are now multiple methods to calculate brain age other than the one used in the study and that further research is needed to understand which one is optimal.
New ways to measure brain age
“It will be important for the field to come up with standardized and well-validated ways to measure brain age to allow comparisons between research studies, and especially important if results like these are ultimately used to guide decision-making.” health care. It’s this last scenario that I think is the really exciting potential for this kind of research.”
– Dr. Lee A. Baugh
To help prevent premature brain aging, experts recommend several strategies to reduce cardiovascular risk factors.
“Being physically active, managing existing medical conditions, eating healthy, learning how to manage stress effectively, being engaged in social networking and activities [are crucial]said Dr. Baugh.
“These are all things that we know can have a big impact on cardiovascular and brain health, basically keeping the whole body as ‘young’ as possible,” he added.