Frequent cold sores aren’t just unsightly. They could be an indicator of mental decline down the line.
A study of older people living in Manhattan found that those who had higher levels of certain infections in their blood — including the form of the herpes virus that causes cold sores — were more likely to have cognition and memory problems.
Researchers from Columbia University Medical Center followed 1,625 men and women for about eight years. The average age of the group at the start of the study was 69 years old.
The study participants were tested for antibodies in the blood related to five common infections, including three members of the herpes family of viruses: herpes simplex 1 (oral herpes) and 2 (genital herpes) and cytomegalovirus. The other two infections were chlamydia pneumoniae (a respiratory infection) and helicobecter pylori (a stomach bacteria).
Participants were also given a cognitive test. Those with higher levels of infection were 25% more likely to receive a low score on the test.
“We found actually that a mathematical combination of all these pathogens is associated with cognition problems,” study author Dr. Mira Katan with the Northern Manhattan Study at Columbia University Medical Center told Fox News. “It’s not just one pathogen, but the cumulative burden of all these infections.
“So it’s bad if you have one infection, but it’s worse if you have several infections. This effect of several infections was associated with cognitive impairment.”
Viruses and bacteria can trigger inflammation in blood vessels throughout the body, including the brain, Katan said.
Infection rate was not linked to greater cognitive decline over the course of the study; rather, it took place in the years before the study, researchers said.
The study found that access to health care, as well as regular exercise, could guard against some of those negative effects on the brain.
“We found the link was greater among women, those with lower levels of education and Medicaid or no health insurance, and most prominently, in people who do not exercise,” said Katan.
“While this association needs to be further studied, the results could lead to ways to identify people at risk of cognitive impairment and eventually lower that risk.
“For example, exercise and childhood vaccinations against viruses could decrease the risk for memory problems later in life.”
Previous studies have linked the herpes family of viruses to Alzheimer’s disease and stroke.
The findings were published Monday in the journal Neurology.
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