Daily low dose aspirin could slow the decline in brain power among elderly women at high risk of heart disease, indicates observational research published in the online journal BMJ Open.

Inflammation has a role in heart disease and may also be implicated in brain ageing, scientists suggest.

The researchers base their findings on 681 women between the ages of 70 and 92, 601 of whom were at high risk of heart disease and stroke, defined as a 10% or greater risk on a validated risk scale (Framingham).

All the women were subjected to a battery of tests to measure their physical health and intellectual capacity, including verbal fluency and memory speed, and dementia (mini mental state exam, or MMSE for short) in 2000-1.

Their health was tracked over a period of five years, at the end of which the intellectual capacity of 489 women was assessed again.

Loading Slideshow...
  • 1. Not Smoking

    While not entirely surprising, it doesn't make the message any less important: <a href="http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/smo/" target="_hplink">Smoking kills</a>. The habit is considered the No. 1 cause of preventable death and sickness in the U.S. Specifically, <a href="http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/smo/" target="_hplink">smoking cigarettes harms the heart</a> in that it damages heart and blood vessel function, thereby upping the risk of atherosclerosis (where your arteries harden), according to the National Institutes of Health.

  • 2. Being Physically Active

    Aerobic exercise is good for the heart in that it makes you take in more oxygen, helps you <a href="http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/aerobic-exercise/EP00002/NSECTIONGROUP=2" target="_hplink">keep to a healthy weight</a>, reduces plaque buildup in the arteries and helps to lower blood pressure, according to the Mayo Clinic. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, adults are recommended to get at least <a href="http://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/everyone/guidelines/adults.html" target="_hplink">150 minutes of aerobic exercise</a> a week (moderate to intense level), and also do muscle-strengthening at least twice a week.

  • 3. Maintaining Normal Blood Pressure Levels

    <a href="http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/hbp/bp/bp.htm" target="_hplink">Blood pressure measurements</a> are written in terms of systolic over diastolic. Systolic pressure is "as the heart beats," according to the National Institutes of Health, while diastolic pressure is the relaxation of the heart between heartbeats. A person with a normal blood pressure level has a systolic blood pressure reading of 120 millimeters of mercury or less, and a diastolic blood pressure reading of 80 millimeters of mercury or less. A person is <a href="http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/hbp/detect/categ.htm" target="_hplink">considered hypertensive</a> (has high blood pressure) when the systolic blood pressure is between 140 and 159, and the diastolic blood pressure is between 90 and 99.

  • 4. Maintaining Normal Blood Glucose Levels

    Having chronically <a href="http://diabetes.webmd.com/blood-glucose" target="_hplink">high levels of glucose</a>, a kind of sugar, in the blood can lead kidney and blood vessel damage, according to WebMD. Insulin, a hormone in the body, is responsible for helping the body's cells to <a href="http://www.medicinenet.com/insulin/article.htm" target="_hplink">use glucose in the blood</a>. However, if the body doesn't have enough insulin or isn't able to use it properly, then <a href="http://www.diabetes.org/living-with-diabetes/treatment-and-care/blood-glucose-control/hyperglycemia.html" target="_hplink">blood sugar levels may rise</a>, according to the American Diabetes Association. High blood sugar is considered a diabetes complication. Tests to check for high blood glucose can help show whether a person has diabetes, and are used to <a href="http://diabetes.webmd.com/blood-glucose" target="_hplink">monitor someone with diabetes</a> over time, WebMD reported.

  • 5. Maintaining Normal Total Cholesterol Levels

    <a href="http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/heart/chol/wyntk.htm" target="_hplink">High cholesterol</a> is a known risk factor for heart disease, because it causes hardening of arteries going to the heart, according to the National Institutes of Health. When part of the heart is deprived of blood, it could trigger a heart attack. The <a href="http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/heart/chol/wyntk.htm" target="_hplink">optimum total cholesterol level</a> is 200 or fewer milligrams of cholesterol per deciliter of blood, while having a total cholesterol level of 200 to 239 milligrams per deciliter is considered borderline high. High total cholesterol is having 240 milligrams of cholesterol per deciliter of blood, or more, according to the National Institutes of Health.

  • 6. Having A Healthy Weight

    Calculating your body mass index (BMI, a ratio of weight to height) is a good starting point for knowing if you're at a <a href="http://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/assessing/index.html" target="_hplink">healthy weight</a>, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. According to the BMI chart, having a BMI of 18.5 or below is considered "underweight" and a BMI of 18.5 to 24.9 is considered "normal" or healthy weight. A BMI of 25 to 29.9 is considered overweight, and a BMI of 30 and above is considered obese. <a href="http://www.nhlbisupport.com/bmi/" target="_hplink">Click here to calculate your BMI</a>. <a href="http://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/assessing/index.html" target="_hplink">Waist circumference</a> can also give clues to your weight; a man may be at risk for health problems from obesity if his waist circumference is more than 40 inches, the CDC reported. For a non-pregnant woman, it's more than 35 inches.

  • 7. Eating A Healthy Diet

    While there are obviously differences in opinion depending on who you ask as to what you should or shouldn't eat for optimal health, there are some <a href="http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/heart-healthy-diet/NU00196" target="_hplink">heart-healthy nutrition rules</a> that remain true across the board. The Mayo Clinic reports that eating a diet low in cholesterol and "bad" fats (saturated and trans fats), with low-fat proteins (like lean meats, fish and beans), whole grains (with lots of fiber), and little sodium is good for your heart. For more nutrition advice, <a href="http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/healthy-diet/NU00200" target="_hplink">click over to the Mayo Clinic</a>.

  • Related Video

    Follow a heart healthy diet to reduce your risk of coronary disease.

Some 129 women were taking low dose aspirin (75 to 160 mg) every day to ward off a heart attack or stroke when the monitoring period started. A further 94 were taking various other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

The MMSE score fell, on average, across the whole group at the end of the five years, but this decline was considerably less in the 66 women who had taken aspirin every day over the entire period.

This held true, even after taking account of age, genetic factors, the use of other NSAIDs, and the cardiovascular risk score.

The researchers then divided up the group into those who had taken aspirin for the entire five years (66); those who had stopped taking it by 2005-6 (18); those who were taking it by 2005-6 (67); and those who hadn't taken the drug at any point (338).

Compared with women who had not taken aspirin at all, those who had done so for all five years, increased their MMSE score, while those who had taken aspirin at some point, registered only insignificant falls in MMSE score.

Loading Slideshow...
  • Salmon

    The American Heart Association recommends <a href="http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/NutritionCenter/HealthyDietGoals/Fish-and-Omega-3-Fatty-Acids_UCM_303248_Article.jsp#.TymfZePLzwc" target="_hplink">eating fish twice a week</a> -- especially fatty fish like salmon, which is rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s can reduce the risk of arrthymias, slow plaque build up in the arteries, lower cholesterol and slightly lower blood pressure. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/wallslide/3109583081/" target="_hplink">Jeremy Hall</a></em>

  • Olive Oil

    Switching from butter to olive oil (or even <a href="http://www.rd.com/health/the-great-olive-oil-misconception-dr-ornish-responds/" target="_hplink">olive oil to canola oil</a>) can <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/eatingwell/healthy-foods_b_1199933.html" target="_hplink">lower cholesterol levels</a>. The "healthy" monounsaturated fats found in olive oil are still fats however, so use in moderation. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/trixer/3799291822/" target="_hplink">Thomas Ricker</a></em>

  • Nuts

    A large 2011 study found that <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22207512" target="_hplink">swapping nuts for red meat</a> as a leaner source of protein resulted in a 17 percent lower risk of stroke. The unsaturated fat in nuts can help reduce cholesterol in comparison to eating red meat, but nuts are still high in fat and calories, so be aware of portion sizes. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/s58y/4415406430/" target="_hplink">s58y</a></em>

  • Berries

    Berries are rich in a type of antioxidant called polyphenols, which can lower blood pressure and <a href="http://www.ajcn.org/content/87/2/323.abstract" target="_hplink">boost "good" HDL cholesterol</a>. A 2011 study focussed on blueberries found that they contain a compound called anthocyanins (also found in other dark fruits like raspberries) that can <a href="http://www.uea.ac.uk/mac/comm/media/press/2011/January/berries" target="_hplink">protect against high blood pressure</a>. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/kimberlykv/4810740536/" target="_hplink">Kimberly Vardeman</a> </em>

  • Oatmeal

    The <a href="http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/01/120111103854.htm" target="_hplink">soluble fiber</a> in oatmeal (as well in other whole-grain foods, fruits and vegetables) <a href="http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/cholesterol/CL00002" target="_hplink">reduces the absorption of "bad" LDL cholesterol</a> into the bloodstream, <a href="http://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20307113,00.html" target="_hplink">helping to keep arteries clear</a>. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/nate/359386784/" target="_hplink">Nate Steiner</a></em>

  • Soy

    While the <a href="http://www.webmd.com/cholesterol-management/features/low-cholesterol-soy-protein" target="_hplink">cholesterol-lowering claims</a> of soy protein <a href="http://www.webmd.com/heart/news/20060123/soys-heart-benefits-questioned" target="_hplink">have been debated</a>, there's no question that it's a low-fat source of protein when compared to fattier options, like red meat. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/ev0luti0nary/6746428573/" target="_hplink">Adriane Dizon</a></em>

  • Dark Chocolate

    Thanks to compounds called <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/11/chocolate-stroke-prevention_n_1004426.html" target="_hplink">flavonoids that operate like antioxidants</a>, satisfying that sweet tooth can actually lower bad cholesterol, reduce blood pressure and prevent blood clots. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/chocolatereviews/4724615475/" target="_hplink">Lee McCoy</a> </em>

  • Popcorn

    When air-popped (read, not drenched in butter and smothered in salt), popcorn is actually a surprisingly <a href="http://abcnews.go.com/Health/WellnessNews/story?id=8356993#.TymrBuPLzwc" target="_hplink">good source of heart-healthy antioxidants and fiber</a>, according to a 2009 study, because it's technically a whole grain. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/superiphi/2521340333/" target="_hplink">Joelle Nebbe-Mornod</a></em>

  • Tomatoes

    Tomatoes are the <a href="http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/03/110301091338.htm" target="_hplink">biggest source of lycopene</a> (a powerful antioxidant) in the American diet, according to a 2011 review of literature on the topic. While more research is needed still, preliminary experiments suggest that lycopene could play a role in <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21291369" target="_hplink">preventing cardiovascular problems</a> due to its <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22076972" target="_hplink">anti-inflammatory properties</a>. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/33909700@N02/3158937163/" target="_hplink">Dave Stokes</a></em>

  • Seaweed

    Just like their leafy, green, land-grown counterparts, seaweeds pack some impressive benefits for the heart, including <a href="http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/09/110913184059.htm" target="_hplink">antioxidants and even some good fats</a>. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/khawkins04/5473790679/" target="_hplink">Ken Hawkins</a></em>

  • Potatoes

    Sweet potatoes are packed with disease-fighting antioxidants, and both sweets and regular <a href="http://shine.yahoo.com/healthy-living/5-foods-that-are-surprisingly-good-for-your-heart-2450980.html" target="_hplink">spuds contain fiber and potassium</a>, <a href="http://www.webmd.com/heart-disease/potassium-and-your-heart" target="_hplink">key in keeping your heart functioning</a> its best. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/22280677@N07/2201327206/" target="_hplink">Svadilfari</a></em>

  • Coffee

    A 2011 study suggests that coffee is one of the <a href="http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/05/110504095630.htm" target="_hplink">biggest sources of antioxidants</a> in the average person's diet, and that caffeine is actually behind the heart-healthy effects of that morning (or afternoon) pick-me-up. Although more research is still needed to more clearly understand the process of how caffeine counteracts free radicals in the body, it seems to help fight heart disease, Alzheimer's and more. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/dyobmit/18588671/" target="_hplink">Timothy Boyd</a></em>

  • Alcohol

    A 2011 review published in the "British Medical Journal" found a 14 to 25 percent <a href="http://www.bmj.com/content/342/bmj.d671" target="_hplink">drop in heart disease</a> in moderate alcohol drinkers compared to teetotalers. For years, research has flip-flopped on the healthy or not debate over alcohol. While once-heralded <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/19/red-wine-health_n_1018934.html" target="_hplink">resveratrol might not be worth all the hype</a>, a recent Spanish study suggests it's <a href="http://www.ajcn.org/content/95/2/326.abstract" target="_hplink">alcohol itself that has cardiovascular benefits</a>, not just the compounds in red wine. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/dinnerseries/5958666230/" target="_hplink">Dinner Series</a></em>

  • Related Video

The test results for verbal fluency and memory speed indicated similar patterns, although the findings weren't statistically significant.

There were no differences, however, in the rate at which the women developed dementia.

The researchers then looked only at the women with a Framingham risk score of more than 10%. Again, similar patterns were evident.

The fall in MMSE score was less among those taking aspirin than those who weren't, and there was no difference between those taking other NSAIDs and those who weren't. The same was true of the verbal and memory tests, although the differences were not statistically significant.

The authors caution that theirs was an observational study, and that the MMSE can't detect subtle changes in cognitive ability. But they suggest their findings indicate that aspirin may protect the brain—at least in women at high risk of a heart attack or stroke