Based on a new study, researchers from the University of Edinburgh have discovered a potential link between cerebral small vessel disease (SVD) and dementia. Best of all, the team was able to reverse blood vessel changes through the use of specific drugs. In turn, this prevented nerve fiber damage in the brains of rats.
New Study Finds a Treatable Component That May Contribute to Dementia and Stroke
In this recent paper, published in Science Translational Medicine, the team of researchers made some key discoveries. After identifying the mechanism that changes blood vessels due to cerebral SVD, they were able to reverse these effects. Since these changes harm the myelin that covers nerve fibers, this impacts the brain cells’ ability to carry signals.
Responsible for up to 45 percent of dementia cases, SVD is closely linked to neurological health. In one study, published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry, it was found that up to 95 percent of subjects aged between 60-90 displayed signs of SVD.
While studying the features of SVD, it became apparent that dysfunction in endothelial cells is one of the first warning signs. These cells line the brain’s small blood vessels and during the earliest stages of SVD, proteins are secreted that impair myelin production. Without myelin, the nervous system will not function as it should.
The researchers theorized that if the dysfunction in endothelial cells was repaired, future brain damage may be prevented. After successfully treating rats engineered with SVD, symptoms and the associated brain damage was reversed. This is encouraging, as the results show that these types of neurological changes may be reversible.
Although more research is required, the researchers hope that at the very least, they can develop a treatment that limits the damaging effects of SVD. Also, since this condition is so common in senior citizens (with a current lack of treatment options), this study may provide a promising path for future research.
More On Cerebral Small Vessel Disease
As discussed above, cerebral SVD is one of the most common issues associated with the aging brain. However, most people have never heard about it. Like dementia, cerebral SVD is an umbrella term, covering a wide range of issues and abnormalities in relation to the brain’s small blood vessels.
More often than not, this condition is a consequence of atherosclerosis. Just as larger blood vessels in the heart can accumulate plaque and face inflammation, so can the smaller blood vessels in your brain. Over time, this results in chronic damage. Depending on how widespread the damage is, cerebral SVD can be “mild,” “moderate,” or “severe.”
Once you develop moderate to severe cerebral SVD, you may experience some or all of the following symptoms:
Cognitive impairment (often referred to as vascular cognitive impairment)
Issues with balance and walking
First-time depression later in life
Among those living with cerebral SVD, these individuals also face a greater risk of strokes, vascular dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and disability or death. If at any point you experience symptoms of cognitive impairment, we recommend the BrainTest® app. Helping you detect the early warning signs of dementia, Alzheimer’s, and other cognitive impairments, you can discuss your results with a medical professional (and track changes across time).
What Causes Cerebral SVD?
Since cerebral SVD is a broad term, it is challenging to define singular causes. Being a condition that encompasses various types of issues surrounding the brain’s small blood vessels, there are a number of risk factors (many of which overlap with variables that increase one’s risk for stroke).
Atrial fibrillation (An irregular heartbeat that can lead to heart failure, blood clots, and other complications)
Cerebral amyloid angiopathy (where amyloid deposits form in the walls of blood vessels)
Researchers are still uncovering potential ways to prevent and treat cerebral SVD. Currently, the best approach is to treat high blood pressure and other risk factors before the age of 80. Remember, in order to effectively treat vascular risk factors, you should not underestimate the importance of regular exercise, stress management, and a healthy diet.
For more information on how to remain healthy and reduce your risk of dementia, please read the following: