Healthy lifestyle can cut dementia danger, study finds

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Researchers found that people who had a high genetic risk for Alzheimer's and who followed unhealthy lifestyles had almost triple the odds of getting the disease, compared to people with low genetic risk and a healthy lifestyle.

The research found the risk of dementia was 32 per cent lower in people with a high genetic risk if they had followed a healthy lifestyle, compared to those with an unhealthy lifestyle. They found 1769 cases of dementia over a follow-up period of eight years and grouped those cases into people with high, medium and low genetic risks for dementia. "Sticking to a healthy lifestyle was associated with a reduced risk of dementia, regardless of the genetic risk", joint lead author Elżbieta Kuźma of the University of Exeter Medical School said in a statement.

To assess lifestyle, the researchers looked at the participants' self-reported diet, physical activity, smoking and alcohol consumption. After eight years, nearly 2% of those with high genetic risk and poor health habits developed a form of dementia.

The first study to analyse the combined effect of genetic and lifestyle factors established that the impact of living healthily was enough to substantially lessen the danger from bad genes.

Age is the biggest risk factor; the majority of Alzheimer's patients are over 65. "Indeed, I was delighted to see the lifestyle choices which appear to work against dementia are those which we know to also be beneficial for reducing the risks of other chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease and cancer". For example: whether or not they smoked; how much fish they ate (the more the better); how much red meat they ate ("which is kind of more of a negative", Llewellyn said); how many servings of fruits and vegetables they ate in a particular day; and how much they drank in a typical week.

The UK Biobank study was long-term research of older individuals that tracks several factors that contribute to a range of diseases, which include heart disease, cancer, depression, and dementia.

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The University of Exeter led the research - concurrently printed at present in JAMA and presented at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference 2019 in Los Angeles.

Previous research had indicated that risk could be cut by up to one third in people without a genetic predisposition, but it was not known if this reduction would also apply to those with increased genetic risk.

A hypothetical example of someone considered to be living a healthy lifestyle would be someone who does not now smoke, and cycles at a normal pace for two-and-a-half hours a week.

Alzheimer's disease, which is a type of dementia, so far has no cure.

The team of researchers noted that out of those with a high risk of developing dementia, 1.8% who led poor lifestyles developed some signs of dementia. While we can't change the genes we inherit, this research shows that changing our lifestyle can still help to stack the odds in our favour'.

For the participants' lifestyle, the team grouped them into favorable, intermediate, and unfavorable lifestyle categories.

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