Smoking, Diabetes and Aging Linked to Calcifications in Memory Center of the Brain

Cross-section of cerebral hemisphere showing structure and location of hippocampus

Cigarette Smoking, Diabetes are Risk Factors for Calcifications in the Brain

A Dutch study about 1,991 seniors published by the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) in the Radiology Journal, June 12, 2018, shows that cigarette smoking and diabetes cause a buildup of calcium in the hippocampus, which is the part of the brain associated with memory. Until this study, it was known that cigarette smoking and diabetes are risk factors for cardiovascular disease, but no one knew that tobacco smoking and diabetes were a risk factor for calcifications in the human brain. It was also known that aging led to calcifications in the brain. This study showed that diabetics and smokers had larger amounts of calcifications in their brains. A sophisticated type of scan, the multiplanar brain CT was used which could better see the hippocampus from various angles like top to bottom, right to left and front to back and also showed more clearly which calcifications were in the hippocampus and which ones were in other parts of the brain near the hippocampus called the choroid plexus.

Hippocampal Calcifications Found to be Indicator of Vascular Disease

Calcifications have been shown to be related to vascular disease, as calcium deposits build up in the blood vessels and this can possibly lead to strokes and vascular dementia. According to the lead author of the study, Esther J.M. de Brouwer, M.D., a geriatrician at the University Medical Center in Utrecht, the Netherlands, a recent histopathology study showed that hippocampal calcifications were found to be an indicator of vascular disease. She also pointed out that it is a known fact that smoking and diabetes are risk factors for cardiovascular disease and so it is probable that smoking and diabetes are also risk factors for calcifications in the hippocampus.

The researchers examined the association between vascular risk factors like high blood pressure, diabetes and smoking, and calcifications in the hippocampus and they also assessed the effects of calcifications on cognitive function.

Study did not Find Link between Hippocampal Calcification and Memory Function

Participants in the study were 1,991 seniors with the average age of 78 and 380 (19.1%) of them were found to have hippocampal calcifications.  However, the study did not find that the presence of these calcifications affected cognitive function, which puzzled the researchers and they surmised that the calcium deposits were probably not in the part of the hippocampus related to memory function. Also, all the participants had anyways come from a memory clinic, which perhaps clouded the results. However, the researchers plan more research with different groups of people to learn more about calcifications in the hippocampus.

At any rate, it is not normal for calcifications to be in any part of the brain. The researchers concluded that smoking, diabetes and aging contribute to calcifications in the brain, including in the hippocampus, but were not able to make any positive conclusions concerning memory function, since all the participants in the study had come from a memory clinic. In other words, they all had memory problems and not just those with hippocampal calcifications.

Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia affecting more than five million Americans and is on the rise. While enormous amounts of money have been poured into research, to date no one has found a cure or a way or preventing or slowing down the progress of Alzheimer’s, which leads to more and more memory loss and finally an inability to think, reason or do things. Many of those afflicted with Alzheimer’s deteriorate to the point where they no longer recognize their loved ones, friends and family members.

Alzheimer’s hallmarks are abnormal tangles of tau protein and abnormal plaques of beta amyloid protein that form in the brain. No one knows for certain what causes the brain to malfunction and to start forming toxic amounts of these two proteins. If a cause were to be found, then perhaps a vaccine could be made to prevent it.

Alzheimer’s specifically damages the memory centers of the hippocampus and causes the brain to shrink. However, this study could not prove that calcifications in the hippocampus of the brain led to memory loss, but they may be linked to vascular damage in the brain.

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Conclusion

Aging, diabetes and cigarette smoking are risk factors for calcifications in the brain, but the calcifications in the hippocampus which is the center for memory function could not be shown to affect memory function in this study. However, hippocampal calcifications  are a risk factor for vascular disease. More research is needed to see if hippocampal calcifications play a part in the development of dementia.

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