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A new study shows that having low bone density may increase a person’s risk for cerebral small vessel disease – a driver of dementia. People with the lowest bone density in their upper femur were twice as likely to develop dementia over a ten-year period than those with the highest bone density.

Researchers categorized nearly 1,200 people over the age of 50 years according to their small vessel health status and bone density. They also measured serum bone turnover markers and microRNAs related to cerebral small vessel disease and bone metabolism.

They found that cerebral small vessel disease scores increased as bone mineral density decreased. They also found that levels of microRNA-378f, a non-coding RNA molecule that inhibits bone formation, were higher among participants with low bone density.

In older adults, dementia and low bone mineral density often coincide. In addition, physical inactivity and poor nutrition, common among people with dementia, can accelerate bone loss. Scientists don’t fully understand the extent to which bone loss is present before the onset of dementia, however. (Read more about bone health in the two reviews presented below.)

The findings from this study suggest that bone and brain health are closely linked, possibly via a bone-brain axis that regulates brain health. However, whether bone loss causes cerebral small vessel disease and subsequent dementia remains unclear. The findings also highlight the importance of maintaining bone health throughout the lifespan. Learn how resistance exercise helps increase bone density in this clip featuring Dr. Brad Schoenfeld.

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