October 2, 2014
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Study: Cardiovascular risk factors linked to Alzheimer's disease

Your brain and your heart may be more alike than you think. Research shows the same things that can keep your heart healthy as you age can also help you keep a healthy brain.

A study in the journal Archives of Neurology found that obesity, high cholesterol and high blood pressure can each double your risk of developing Alzheimer's disease or dementia. What's more, the cluster of all three can raise your risk sixfold.

A team of Swedish researchers looked at data from nearly 2,300 men and women who filled out a questionnaire on health behaviours, health status and medical history and had their cholesterol, blood pressure and BMI (body mass index) measured at some point during the 1970s or 1980s. Of the original participants, 1,449 were re-evaluated and checked for Alzheimer's disease or dementia in 1998.

At the start of the study, participants' average age was about 51, and 16% were considered obese (BMI of 30 or higher).

After an average follow-up period of 21 years, 61 participants were diagnosed with dementia. Of those cases, 48 were related to Alzheimer's disease.

After analyzing their data, the researchers found that even after accounting for differences in age, sociodemographic factors and other vascular risk factors, being obese carried 2.1 times the risk for developing dementia faced by those who were of normal weight (BMI below 25) or overweight (BMI between 25 and 29.9). Systolic blood pressure (the upper number) greater than 140 mm Hg and total cholesterol levels greater than 6.5 mmol/L (251 mg/dL) also each carried about double the risk.

Having all three risk factors - obesity, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol - seemed to have an additive effect, resulting in a risk 6.21 times that of participants who were not obese and had neither high blood pressure nor high cholesterol.

"As our data have shown, the more vascular risk factors, the greater the risk for dementia and AD (Alzheimer's disease)," wrote the researchers. "Therefore, elimination of even 1 risk factor could decrease this risk."

The researchers note that BMI could be used as an inexpensive, simple way to screen for dementia risk, but that the relationship between the two needs to be further explored.


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