Do you want to keep your brain healthy and your memory sharp? There is one blood test that you should have done as soon as possible

By | March 5, 2024

Woman over 50 getting a blood test to help protect her brain health

It probably goes without saying that we should all do everything we can to protect our brain health. This is especially important as we get older, because our brains undergo some important changes as we age.

A study from the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health found that our brains begin to shrink as early as our 30s and 40s, and areas of the brain related to cognitive functions are most affected. What can you do to protect your brain from the effects of aging?

Related: The One Thing You Should Never Eat If You Want to Protect Your Brain Health

Factors that affect your brain health

According to the Cleveland Clinic, the six lifestyle factors that play the biggest role in our brain health are exercise, food/nutrition, medical health, sleep, mental fitness and social interaction.

The good news is that there are many ways you can make positive changes in almost all of these areas, which in turn can support better brain health in the long term.

Dr. Charles Bernick, MD
, staff neurologist at the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, says several lifestyle interventions are strongly associated with better long-term brain health. They contain:

  • Regular exercise of moderate intensity, aiming for 150 minutes per week (30 minutes per day, at least five days per week)

  • Follow a Mediterranean diet

  • Stay mentally active and engaged

  • Ensure a good sleep pattern

Related: Here’s What Impact Daily Word Games Actually Have on Your Brain Health, a Neurologist Explains

Medical tests that may be relevant to brain health

Not surprisingly, general medical health and brain health are strongly linked. In this case, knowledge is power. The more informed you are about medical problems that can affect your brain, the easier it is to plan a strategy to improve your brain health or reduce your risk for conditions that affect your cognitive functions.

Dr. Bernick says the types of information relevant to brain health that can be detected in the blood fall into two categories:

  1. Identifying common health problems that can affect brain function. “This includes monitoring for disturbances in thyroid, liver or kidney function, vitamin deficiencies, autoimmune or infectious processes,” he explains.

  2. Assessment of primary brain disorders. “With the availability of technologies that can detect minute amounts of proteins leaking from the brain, we can now measure in the blood the hallmark proteins of Alzheimer’s disease: beta-amyloid and tau,” says Dr. Bernick. “These blood tests appear to correlate with other established diagnostic tests for Alzheimer’s disease. In addition, we can screen for a number of less common neurological diseases through blood genetic testing.”

The most important blood test for brain health

While more advanced tests targeting proteins linked to conditions like Alzheimer’s disease can provide valuable information for people at risk for these conditions, these tests are not always recommended or available to everyone.

Doctors say it’s usually best to start with more frequent blood tests for conditions that affect a large number of people — and, more importantly, are often preventable or treatable.

When focusing on brain health, the best place to start is a blood test that checks for diabetes. It is also a good idea to have your cholesterol checked.

“Vascular health is critical for the brain,” says Dr. Victoria S. Pelak, MD, FAAN, FANA, Professor of Neurology and Ophthalmology, Vice Chair of Faculty Affairs and Promotions, Department of Neurology, University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. “The doctor can order age-appropriate blood tests that focus on vascular health, such as blood tests for diabetes and cholesterol.”

To check for diabetes, you have a number of options. “Blood tests for diabetes include measurements of your blood sugar levels on the day of the test and/or a blood test that evaluates average blood sugar levels over the past three months,” says Dr. Pelak.

A third test that can also provide valuable information about brain health is one to check your vitamin B12 levels. “Vitamin B12 is an important vitamin to measure, and it can be low despite a good diet, or low on diets that limit or eliminate poultry or red meat, for example,” says Dr. Pelak. “Vitamin B12 is important for nerve cells, and a severe B12 deficiency can lead to cognitive impairment.”

How blood tests can help you protect your brain health

All of these tests reveal conditions that can compromise your brain health – and in many cases, they can alert you to problems while you still have time to make lifestyle changes that can make a difference.

“Blood tests for diabetes and cholesterol help determine if treatment is needed to keep your blood sugar and cholesterol within normal limits,” says Dr. Pelak. “Abnormal blood sugar levels can occur before a person develops diabetes, and learning about them early can help you get blood sugar levels under control before blood vessels become damaged. Likewise, cholesterol levels are important for maintaining healthy blood vessels. High cholesterol and diabetes can lead to plaque formation in the blood vessels in the brain. When these are damaged, cognitive impairment can occur and these factors can reduce brain health.”

Dr. Pelak adds that vitamin B12 is “important for healthy nerve function, and has also been linked to reduced mood and depression when deficient.”

Related: This Common Problem May Increase Your Risk of Dementia, According to Neurologists—Here’s How to Prevent It

Talk to your doctor to discuss what tests you need

Talk to your doctor about which brain health tests may be right for you, as everyone’s situation is different. “The type of blood work ordered should be determined individually based on the patient’s symptoms, medical history, and family history,” says Dr. Bernick. “Generally, the doctor or advanced practice provider will order blood tests that include a comprehensive metabolic panel, blood count, thyroid function and vitamin B12 level. Additional tests may be ordered on a specific basis.”

Next, discover the key brain cancer symptom that most people miss, according to a neurologist and oncologist.


  • Charles Bernick, MD, staff neurologist at Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health

  • Victoria S. Pelak, MD, FAAN, FANA, professor of neurology and ophthalmology, vice chair of faculty affairs and advancement, department of neurology, University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus

  • Changes that occur in the aging brain: what happens as we get older. Columbia Mailman School of Public Health

  • 6 pillars of brain health. Healthy Brain, Cleveland Clinic

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