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SHEFFIELD, England — Heart disease can trigger dementia, warns a new study. Scientists have discovered that heart disease causes a buildup of plaque in the blood vessels of the brain could lead to dementia. It creates problems in the brain by making it harder for blood to reach the neurons that need it.

As a result, scientists at the University of Sheffield say heart disease can triple the amount of an Alzheimer’s protein in the brain. They say the process occurs in heart disease patients before the buildup of fat in the brain’s blood vessels (atherosclerosis) and is a prelude to dementia.

Until now it has been unclear how some forms of vascular dementia can occur years before the arteries thicken and harden in the brain.

The researchers also discovered that the combination of heart disease and a genetic predisposition for Alzheimer’s disease triples the amount of beta-amyloid – a protein that builds up and triggers Alzheimer’s. It then increases the levels of an inflammatory gene called IL1 in the brain.

“Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia worldwide and heart disease is a major risk factor for both Alzheimer’s and dementia,” says study lead author D.r Osman Shabir in a statement. “The new findings are key to furthering our understanding of the links between heart disease and dementia. We’ve discovered that heart disease in midlife causes the breakdown of neurovascular coupling, an important mechanism in our brains which controls the amount of blood supplied to our neurons. This breakdown means the brain doesn’t get enough oxygen when needed and in time this can lead to dementia.”

The team has since been awarded a three-year grant from the British Heart Foundation to look at the use of an arthritis drug that targets IL1 to see if it could reverse or reduce the brain dysfunction seen to be caused by heart disease.

The researchers also report that brain injuries can worsen brain blood flow regulation, supporting observations that patients’ symptoms often worsen after injuries or falls.

The findings are published in the journal eLife.

South West News Service writer Georgia Lambert contributed to this report.

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