Link Between Heart Disease and Alzheimer’s

Alzheimer'sIf having a heart attack is not enough to make you change your lifestyle habits, know there is evidence that having cardiovascular disease actually increases your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

Scientists are becoming greatly convinced that both the heart and brain share common triggers such as oxidative stress, inflammation, and hypoxia (deficiency in the amount of oxygen reaching the tissues).

Fortunately, there are many nutritionals that have shown great benefits in preventing both cardiovascular disease and to preserve healthy cognitive function.

Heart Disease and Alzheimer’s

congestive heart failure and Alzheimer'sOver 60 million Americans have some form of heart disease. These range from coronary artery disease, cardiac arrhythmias, and congestive heart failure. Of these 60 million, on average, 600,000 will die and almost half of those will be women. So even though heart disease is thought of as being a problem for men, it is just as devastating for women.

At the same time Alzheimer’s disease has been increasing very quickly and so far there is no cure. This neurological condition progressively destroys your memory and ability to think. It affects over 5 million Americans.

Affect on Memory

memoryPeople with Alzheimer’s have a significant decline in brain levels of acetylcholine (responsible for sending signals to other cells and is important for memory formation and retention). Alzheimer’s patients also have an accumulation of senile plaques in the brain and autopsies of Alzheimer’s patients show evidence of large amounts of oxidative damage from free radicals. Free radicals are produced in much larger amounts in these patients and can lead to significant brain damage.

There is now groundbreaking research that suggests there is a link between Alzheimer’s and cardiovascular disease.

There is evidence that Alzheimer’s could be primarily a vascular disorder, where the brain is not receiving enough blood flow to work correctly.

  • when blood flow is impaired to the brain it can cause cognitive and brain decline similar to Alzheimer’s.
  • When Alzheimer’s patients take medications to improve cerebral blood flow, their condition improves.
  • Reduced cerebral blood flow is detectable even before the onset of this disease.

hypoxiaA report in the Proceedings of the New York Academy of Sciences has shown that hypoxia (reduction in oxygen to the brain because of reduced blood flow) may activate the development of Alzheimer’s. This research shows that hypoxia increases the activity of BACE1 which increases the production of bad plaque in the brain.

In addition, hypoxia in the brain also increases levels of oxidative stress. When oxidative stress is chronic, it can cause neuronal cell death with manifests as Alzheimer’s disease. Since conditions like heart disease can cause brain hypoxia, there is a direct link between the two.

Cardiovascular Disease Impairs Blood Flow to the Brain

Cardiovascular disease impairs the bodies ability to carry nutrients and oxygen to the bodies tissues and remove carbon dioxide and wastes. Since the brain uses a huge amount of energy it is especially vulnerable to lack of oxygen and nutrients.

Hypoxic Damage and Drugs

drugsSince healthy acetylcholine levels are critically important for memory formation and retention, it is not surprising that most prescription medications currently used to treat Alzheimer’s disease work by increasing this important neurotransmitter. Although they modestly decrease the rate of progression, these medications–known as acetylcholinesterase inhibitors, such as Aricept® (donepezil) and Exelon® (rivastigmine)–do not stop the disease. In addition, these medications can have numerous unpleasant side effects, including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and liver damage.

Another medicine, Namenda® (memantine), targets NMDA (n-methyl-D-aspartate) receptors in the brain, rather than acetylcholine. However, like the acetylcholinesterase inhibitors, Namenda® is not a cure, and does nothing to help decrease oxidative stress or the formation of amyloid-beta, two hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease that are strongly influenced by hypoxia.

With newly emerging evidence showing direct links between cardiovascular disease and Alzheimer’s, it makes perfect sense to use preventive therapies that target both diseases. Although there is currently no approved prescription medication that can accomplish this, a wealth of scientific evidence shows that nutritional and botanical remedies may help prevent and manage both diseases.

Reduce Oxidative Stress

vitamin E antioxidantAntioxidants have been shown to protect against heart disease and neurodegerative disease. Since oxidative damage is linked to Alzheimer’s, it makes sense that antioxidants supplements may have an important role in preventing it and other forms of dementia.

In a large study in Basel, Switzerland with 442 elderly people, there was an increase in memory retention in those that had more beta-carotene and vitamin C (which are both common antioxidants).

A study published in 2005 found that people who supplemented with both Vitamin E and Vitamin C (high in antioxidants) showed a decreased incidence of Alzheimer’s disease.

There are several nutrients that help to both reduce heart disease and protect against Alzheimer’s:

  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin E
  • Beta-Carotene
  • Omega 3’s
  • Resveratrol
  • Ginkgo Biloba Extract


grape seedResearch shows that resveratrol guards against heart disease, but also may also protect against Alzheimer’s. In a study in 2003, it was shown that black grape skin extract which is high in resveratrol, protected cells against free-radical damage and protect against brain plaque.

Ginkgo Biloba

Ginkgo Biloba is another supplement that may help fight against Alzheimer’s. It has been used in age-related memory loss and multiple studies have shown ginkgo to provide protection against pathological changes in Alzheimer’s patients.

Omega 3’s

Without consumption of food or supplements containing omega-3 fatty acids, good health is simply not possible.

There is now indisputable evidence that supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids can help prevent and treat a variety of chronic diseases, including heart disease and Alzheimer’s. One of the first large-scale studies on this subject, published in 1997, looked at the effects of fish consumption on coronary heart disease and the incidence of heart attacks in 1,822 men. Men who consumed diets rich in cold-water fish, an abundant source of omega-3 fatty acids, had a greatly reduced risk of heart disease or dying from a heart attack.

There is accumulating evidence that shows the importance of supplementation in regards to heart health and Alzheimer’s disease.