As Alzheimer’s disease (AD) rates continue to rise, many of us are wondering what our own risk is of becoming a statistic. Current data says your chances are one in nine if you are over 65 years old, and if you’re over 85, it’s one in three. With such high risks, wouldn’t it be great to better understand what we can do to prevent it? There isn’t a good treatment to reverse AD and we still are not clear what causes it. Genetics and lifestyle factors seem to play in to the scenario, but the picture is fuzzy at best.
A recent study was published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry, which may help provide clues as to which lifestyle risk factors can be modified to help decrease the chances of developing this devastating disease. This study was a meta-analysis of other studies that contained data about AD risks. The diligent researchers initially browsed through almost 17,000 relevant studies, then narrowed it down to 323 which were appropriate to include in the review. There were over 5,000 patients included in the 323 studies.
The review of these 5,000 patients brought to light some interesting findings. They found a strong protective effect from five dietary factors: coffee intake, light to moderate drinking (alcohol), vitamin E, vitamin C, and folic acid. They found a significantly increased risk of developing AD when homocysteine levels were high or if a person was depressed. Risk also increased in the presence of other health conditions such as obesity (in middle age), atherosclerosis, high blood pressure, and having type-2 diabetes. Interestingly, the study found a seemingly contradictory risk factor; a “low” BMI (being underweight) also is a hazard. Smoking or having a lower education level increases a person’s risk. Frailty (lacking strength and not exercising) puts a person at risk as well.
Some of the results were surprising and all in all, some were familiar. Although nothing is conclusive from this one review, the information is useful. I think it does help point us in the right direction to make smart lifestyle choices for AD prevention, and those choices are also generally wise recommendations for overall health and wellness.
Xu W, Tan L, Wang H, et al: Meta-analysis of modifiable risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease. Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry 2015;August 21, 2015.