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What does having high blood pressure, a big belly, high blood sugar, high triglycerides, low HDL cholesterol and high LDL cholesterol give you?

The answer?

Metabolic syndrome.

Metabolic syndrome is as the name suggests, a syndrome made of up a combination of three or more or the above risk factors. It is linked to having a higher risk of heart disease.

But if you look at each of these risk factors on their own, they are all risk factors for dementia. So it is probably no surprise to learn that someone with metabolic syndrome has a higher risk of developing memory loss, as they get older.

Recent research confirms the risk of memory loss from metabolic syndrome

A French study recently published in the journal Neurology tested a population of over 7000 people from three French cities looking to identify those with metabolic syndrome.

They found that 16% of the cohort met the criteria for metabolic syndrome. All of the participants took part in a series of memory and cognitive function tests two and four years later.

The tests included a memory test, a visual working memory test and a word fluency test.

What they found was that those 16% with metabolic syndrome

• Were 20% more likely to show cognitive decline
• Were 13% more likely to have cognitive impairment with the visual working memory test
• Were more likely to have poorer working memory if they had high triglycerides and lower HDL cholesterol
• Were associated with poorer visual working memory and word fluency if they had actual diabetes (not high blood sugars alone)

The key message from this study is that having metabolic syndrome is a major risk factor for memory loss because of the multiplier effect of the associated components, which go to make up this condition.

It seems fairly obvious that good management of those with metabolic syndrome is vital to preserve their cognition for advancing age.
What is encouraging though, is that many of the individual components can be relatively easily managed with good patient education and self-motivation.

High blood pressure can be addressed through losing weight, increasing physical activity, and medication if necessary.
High blood sugars and diabetes require dietary intervention and education, plus normalising weight, increasing exercise and using medication if required. Tight glycaemic control is the aim.

Blood lipids require follow up with repeated blood levels, dietary advice and intervention, exercise and medication as required.

Those big bellies may also require help with nutritional advice, exercise and follow up.

There are a number or recurrent themes of management which boil down to two of the key elements used in improving brain fitness, namely
good nutrition and exercise.

Better management of the metabolic syndrome will help to slow down age related memory loss or delay the onset of dementia in this high-risk group.

C. Raffaitin, C. Féart, M. Le Goff, H. Amieva, C. Helmer, T. N. Akbaraly, C. Tzourio, H. Gin, P. Barberger-Gateau. Metabolic syndrome and cognitive decline in French elders: The Three-City Study. Neurology, 2011; DOI: 10.1212/WNL.0b013e31820b7656

Dr Jenny Brockis

Dr Jenny Brockis is a medical practitioner and internationally board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, workplace health and wellbeing consultant, podcaster, keynote speaker and best-selling author. Her new book 'Thriving Mind: How to Cultivate a Good Life' (Wiley) is available online and at all good bookstores.

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