According to a new study, the level of protein in the blood is linked to heart disease and early stage brain damage. The study, published online in the Journal of Radiology, has said that a substance or marker in the blood is indicative of sub-clinical heart disease and brain diseases like a stroke and or dementia, and could speed up initiation of treatments and lifestyle changes, potentially slowing or even reversing the disease’s course.
The promising marker -- N-terminal Pro-B-type natriuretic peptide (NT-proBNP) -- a protein released into the blood in response to cardiac wall stress. Blood serum levels of NT-proBNP rise when heart failure worsens and drop when it gets better.
Damage to both organs often occurs at a sub-clinical stage, or before signs and symptoms of disease is evident. Researchers in The Netherlands recently investigated 2,397 community-dwelling middle-aged and elderly non-demented people without them undergoing a clinical diagnosis of heart disease.
When the researchers compared serum levels of NT-proBNP with MRI findings, they discovered a clear association between higher NT-proBNP levels and brain damage.
“We found that higher serum levels of NT-proBNP were associated with smaller brain volumes, in particular with smaller gray matter volume and with poorer organisation of the brain’s white matter,” said lead author Meike W. Vernooij from the Erasmus MC University Medical Center in Rotterdam.
The findings imply a close link between the heart and brain even in presumably healthy individuals, Dr. Vernooij added.
“However, from a biological perspective, and based on animal studies, it is more likely that cardiac dysfunction affects brain changes rather than vice versa,” Dr. Vernooij explained.
Further research, including follow-up brain MRI studies and measurements of NT-pro-BNP, would be needed to clarify the relationship between cardiac dysfunction and subclinical brain disease, the researchers concluded.