New study reveals inflammation in 20s determines cognitive health in late 40s

A recent study from UC San Francisco found that young adults with higher levels of inflammation might face reduced cognitive function in midlife. 

Specifically, the study revealed that only 10% of individuals with low inflammation performed poorly on tests of processing speed and memory, compared to 21% and 19%, respectively, of those with moderate or high levels of inflammation​ [1]. 

This enlightening research suggests that inflammation in your 20s could significantly impact your brain health decades later.

Research has long associated higher inflammation in older adults with dementia and cognitive decline. However, this new study highlights the importance of inflammation in early adulthood as a crucial factor for cognitive health in midlife

This research was conducted as part of the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) study. It followed 2,364 adults over 18 years, measuring their C-reactive protein (CRP) levels, which is a marker for inflammation. The study also assessed their cognitive performance five years after the last CRP measurement [2].

Key findings

The study identified three distinct inflammation trajectories among participants: lower stable (45%), moderate/increasing (16%), and consistently higher (39%). 

Participants with consistently higher or moderate/increasing CRP levels had significantly higher odds of poor processing speed and executive function in midlife compared to those with lower stable CRP levels​ [2]. 

This suggests that sustained or increasing inflammation from early adulthood can have long-term detrimental effects on cognitive abilities.

Lifestyle factors

The researchers also found that higher levels of inflammation were linked to lifestyle factors such as physical inactivity, higher body mass index (BMI), and smoking [1]. 

These findings emphasize the importance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle to reduce the risks associated with high inflammation.

Regular physical activity, maintaining a healthy weight, and avoiding smoking are vital for preserving cognitive function later in life.

The study’s lead author, Amber Bahorik, PhD, emphasized that brain changes leading to conditions like Alzheimer’s disease might begin much earlier than previously thought. 

This study suggests early intervention and lifestyle adjustments in early adulthood may be crucial in averting cognitive decline and dementia in later years​ [1].

Preventive measures

According to senior author Kristine Yaffe, MD, there are actionable steps individuals can take to reduce inflammation and improve long-term cognitive health. 

Increasing physical activity and quitting smoking are two primary strategies that show promise in reducing inflammation levels​ [1]​. 

It’s important to adopt these habits early in life to decrease your risk of cognitive decline as you age.


While this study provides valuable insights, the researchers acknowledge certain limitations, including potential selection bias and the reliance on CRP as the sole inflammatory marker [2]​. 

Future research should explore additional inflammatory markers and consider longer follow-up periods to validate these findings further.

Take control of your health now to protect your cognitive function in the future. Exercise, maintain a healthy, balanced diet, and avoid smoking. 

These steps can help reduce inflammation and promote better brain health as you age. Be proactive about your health to enjoy a sharper, more vibrant mind for years.


Photograph: LightFieldStudios/Envato
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