A new study in the Journal of the American Heart Association finds that proven risks of heart disease can also lead to a decrease in brain function. The Dutch study, performed on 3,778 participants at the University Medical Center Groningen, found a cognitive decline in participants as young as 35.

"Most people know the negative effects of heart risk factors such as heart attack, stroke and renal impairment, but they do not realize it affects cognitive health. What's bad for the heart is also bad for the brain," said Hanneke Joosten, M.D., the lead affiliate on the study.

Participants of ages 35 to 44 already presented the profile for poorer cognitive functions when they had a worse overall cardiovascular risk profile.

The research also concluded that the main determining components of the Framingham Risk Score (FRS), which is used to estimate the likelihood of a person developing cardiovascular disease in the next five or ten years, were diabetes and smoking.

"There clearly is a dose response among smokers, with heavy smokers having a lower cognitive function than light or non-smokers," said Joosten. "It is likely that smoking cessation has a beneficial effect on cognitive function."

People who smoked one to fifteen cigarettes per day had a decrease in cognitive score of 2.41 points. Subjects who smoked more than 16 cigarettes daily had a decrease of 3.43 points.

Joosten encourages health professionals to be more aware of the cognitive decreases with these cardiovascular risk factors, "especially those that are modifiable like smoking and obesity need ongoing attention from the medical profession, government and food industry."

"Smoking cessation programs might not only prevent cancer, stroke and cardiovascular events, but also cognitive damage," added Joosten.