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Stress And Poor Health In Your 20s Catches Up To You In Your 40s

1 week, 1 day ago

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Posted on Jul 04, 2024, 5 p.m.

Live it up when you're young and pay later. But you may not like the cost.

When you are young and having fun, you really don’t put much thought into growing old. As it turns out, all that fun you had in your 20s catches up to you in your 40s. This study published in Neurology shows that young adults with higher inflammation levels may experience reduced cognitive and executive function in middle life. 

Young adults with higher levels of inflammation that are associated with physical inactivity, stress, smoking, obesity, and chronic illness are more likely to have lower performance in skills testing at midlife. Higher inflammation levels in older adults has previously been linked to dementia, this is one of the first studies to connect inflammation in early adulthood with lower cognitive abilities in midlife. 

The study

This study from the University of California-San Francisco followed 2,346 adults between the ages of 18 to 30 years old who were enrolled in the CARDIA Study which sought to identify factors in young adulthood that could lead to cardiovascular disease later in life, two to three decades later. During the study period the participants were tested 4 times for the inflammatory marker C-reactive protein (CRP), and took cognitive testing, including one conducted 5 years after their last CRP measurement at which time they would have been in their 40s and 50s. 

"We know from long-term studies that brain changes leading to Alzheimer's disease and other dementias may take decades to develop," said first author Amber Bahorik, PhD, of the UCSF Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and the Weill Institute for Neurosciences. "We wanted to see if health and lifestyle habits in early adulthood may play a part in cognitive skills in midlife, which in turn may influence the likelihood of dementia in later life."

What they found

The analysis revealed that 45% of the participants had lower stable inflammation, 16% had moderate or increasing inflammation, and 39% had higher levels. 

The researchers found that only 10% of those with low inflammation levels performed poorly on testing of processing speed and memory as compared to 21% of those with high levels of inflammation performing poorly on tests of processing speed and 19% of those with high levels of inflammation performing poorly on tests of memory. 

Link between inflammation and health risks

Based on their findings, the researchers linked higher levels of inflammation with current smoking habits, having a higher BMI, and physical inactivity. 

"Inflammation plays a significant role in cognitive aging and may begin in early adulthood," said senior author Kristine Yaffe, MD, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, neurology, and epidemiology and biostatistics at UCSF. "There is likely a direct and indirect effect of inflammation on cognition."

Lifestyle changes and prevention

Yaffe is a member of the first team of experts to determine that 30% of dementia risk is preventable. Some of her recent work investigates the association in midlife between fragmented sleep and lower cognition and the effects of personalized health and lifestyle changes in preventing memory loss among high-risk older adults. 

"Fortunately, there are ways to reduce inflammation -- such as by increasing physical activity and quitting smoking -- that might be promising paths for prevention," Yaffe said.

As with anything you read on the internet, this article should not be construed as medical advice; please talk to your doctor or primary care provider before changing your wellness routine. This article is not intended to provide a medical diagnosis, recommendation, treatment, or endorsement. Additionally, it is not intended to malign any religion, ethnic group, club, organization, company, individual, or anyone or anything. These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. 

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