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How Can Salt Cause Cognitive Decline? Study Sheds Light on the Link Between Neural Activity and Blood Flow in the Brain

A new study reveals that salt can affect blood flow and neural activity in the brain that may lead to cognitive decline. Previous studies have shown that increased blood flow activates neurons, but no one has yet to understand the mechanism behind it.

In this research, scientists combine surgical techniques with state-of-the-art neuroimaging to examine the hypothalamus, the part of the brain responsible for drinking, eating, temperature regulation, and reproduction to determine the relationship between neuron activity and blood flow.

salt and brain

How Can Salt Cause Cognitive Decline? Study Sheds Light on the Link Between Neural Activity and Blood Flow in the Brain (PHOTO: California Institute of Technology)

Salt and the Brain

Neurovascular coupling is the relationship between activated neurons and the rapid increase of blood flow in the brain. Tech Explorist reported that neuroimaging shows that weak blood flow can result in brain disorders. For the study, researchers chose salt because the body needs to control sodium levels precisely.

They said that salt intake activates a series of compensatory mechanisms to bring sodium levels back down. The body activates neurons to trigger the release of vasopressin that maintains the proper concentration of salt. 

But they found a decrease in blood flow during neuron activation in the hypothalamus, in a process called vasoconstriction, instead of an increased blood flow during neuron activity, which is commonly observed in response to a sensory stimulus. They noted that decreased blood flow is usually observed in the cortex of those with Alzheimer’s disease, or a stroke.

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Salt Intake Explains How Hypertension Affect Brain

Scientists said that their findings show how eating a lot of salt could make sodium levels in the body elevated for a long time. They think that hypoxia, or decreased blood flow, strengthens neurons’ ability to respond to sustained salt stimulation that enables them to remain active for prolonged periods.

More so, this explains how hypertension may affect the brain. According to Futurity, between 50% to 60% of people with hypertension are salt-dependent. Too much salt can lead to hyperactivation of vasopressin neurons that induce excessive hypoxia, leading to tissue damage in the brain.

They also plan to study animal models whether too much salt would also lead to salt-dependent hypertension. Additionally, they hope to use their approach to study other brain regions and diseases.

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