There are no guarantees when it comes to aging, but a new study helps clarify the lifestyle choices that affect our risk for Alzheimer’s disease, for better and for worse. The team from the University of California, San Francisco culled thousands of previous studies on Alzheimer’s risk and protective factors, and arrived at 323 studies that provided high-quality data. They found, as other studies have, that there are some key elements that are largely within our power to integrate or avoid, in order to reduce the risk of the brain disease that affects some 5 million people in the U.S. today.
The factors that appear to be protective against Alzheimer’s include many of the things that we already know to be good for us: Eating a healthy diet; healthy intake of folate, vitamin C, and vitamin E; coffee consumption; fish consumption; light-moderate drinking; and staying cognitively active. There were also some links between medications and reduced Alzheimer’s risk, including estrogen, cholesterol lowering drugs (statins), blood pressure meds, and anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). The nine factors associated with higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s were:
- Carotid artery narrowing
- Low educational attainment
- High levels of homocysteine (a compound that builds up, in part when B vitamin levels are low)
- High blood pressure and low blood pressure
- Current smoking (in the Asian population)
- Type 2 diabetes (in the Asian population)
Many of the connections have been known for some time, but it’s helpful to have them confirmed by newer, large-scale analyses. Keep in mind, of course, that the study only arrives at correlations between these factors and Alzheimer’s – it doesn’t prove that one or more actually cause or prevent the other. And genetic factors still play a strong role in the development of Alzheimer’s. But the researchers say that assuming causality is at play, if the population avoided the nine risk factors listed above, up to two-thirds of Alzheimer’s cases could also be avoided. That’s quite a high percentage. We may not be able to do all good things for ourselves all the time, but when it comes to the brain, the more we can do, the better.
Alice Walton for Forbes Business
23 August 2015