Chronic Medical Conditions & Brain Health: What’s The Link?

Disease and brain

There is a definite link between chronic medical condition and brain health. Most of us know that Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease cause brain damage and cognitive decline, but did you know that other health conditions can also cause problems with thinking, memory, and learning?


Hypoglycemic capsuleYour brain needs a consistent supply of glucose to function. If your blood sugar levels are unstable—for example, they might be too high if your condition isn’t well-managed—your brain is at risk of damage.

If the blood vessels that supply the white matter in your brain with fuel weaken, its nerve cells won’t work properly anymore. This increases your chances of cognitive impairment. The longer you’ve had diabetes, the more likely you are to develop dementia. Fortunately, carefully monitoring and regulating your blood sugar levels lowers the odds.

Coronary Heart Disease (CHD)

A review of 24 studies concluded that older adults with CHD are 45% more likely than healthy individuals to develop mild cognitive impairment or dementia.

We don’t know for certain whether CHD directly causes dementia. However, researchers do know that heart and circulation problems can damage blood vessels and increase the risk of having a stroke, which can result in significant brain damage. After having a stroke, around one-third of patients develop dementia.


Depression has been linked to an increased vulnerability to cognitive impairment. One study, which tracked older adults over 17 years, found that people with depression were significantly more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease (AD).

What might explain the link? Depression and stress usually go together, and chronic stress causes inflammation, impairing brain function. Another possible reason is that brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) levels are lower than average in depressed people. This is important because low BDNF is linked to AD.

Depressed people typically eat a less nutritious diet, socialize less often, and take less exercise than those in good mental health. These behaviors make them more vulnerable to cognitive problems in later life.


Hypothyroidism, a condition in which the thyroid gland does not produce enough hormones. Thyroid hormones are essential for normal glucose metabolism in the brain. When levels are too low, the brain cannot function properly.

If you have untreated hypothyroidism, your memory, concentration, language skills, and ability to make decisions may suffer. The good news is that these problems are usually reversible.

Periodontal disease

Also known as gum disease, periodontal disease is a long-term infection of the tissue around the teeth. Symptoms include inflammation, bleeding gums, receding gums, loose teeth, and, in advanced stages, tooth loss.

Periodontal disease causes inflammation in the body and leads to a buildup of plaques in the brain. These plaques are seen in people with AD, which suggests a link between the two conditions. Practice good oral hygiene, and see your dentist immediately if you think you have periodontal disease.

Stay Vigilant

It can take a while to notice cognitive impairment. For example, in people with diabetes, changes can happen gradually over several years.

When it comes to your health, be proactive. Work with your doctor to keep your conditions under control. Attend regular medical reviews, and tell your doctor if you notice any new symptoms.

Do you have any of these chronic health conditions? What are the steps you are taking to keep them under control? Please let us have your comment.

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