JACKSON, Miss. — Seven healthy habits can almost halve the risk of Alzheimer’s among people who carry genes that make them most susceptible, a new study reveals. These simple tips include being active, eating better, losing weight, and maintaining normal blood pressure.
Controlling cholesterol, not smoking, and reducing blood sugar are also part of that the team calls “Life’s Simple 7” — which also protect against cardiovascular disease.
“These healthy habits in the Life’s Simple 7 have been linked to a lower risk of dementia overall,” lead author Professor Adrienne Tin from the University of Mississippi says in a statement. “But it is uncertain whether the same applies to people with a high genetic risk.”
“The good news is even for people who are at the highest genetic risk, living by this same healthier lifestyle are likely to have a lower risk of dementia,” Prof. Tin adds.
The team tracked 11,561 older people for 30 years, including 8,823 of European ancestry and 2,738 of African ancestry. Among Europeans, those who achieved high lifestyle scores were 43 percent less likely to develop dementia. Those with an intermediate lifestyle score had a 30-percent lower risk.
Among those of African ancestry, the number of cases fell by 17 and six percent, respectively. Participants reported their levels in all seven health factors during the study.
Scores ranged from 0 to 14, representing the most unhealthy and healthiest, respectively. The average score for Europeans was 8.3, while Africans had an average score of 6.6. For each one-point increase, there was a nine percent lower dementia risk.
Which genes put people most at risk for dementia?
Estimates project the number of Alzheimer’s cases worldwide will triple to more than 150 million by 2050. With no cure in sight, there is an increasing focus on potentially protective lifestyle changes, such as diet and exercise. The U.S. team calculated genetic risk scores at the start of the study using genome-wide statistics of Alzheimer’s.
Europeans and Africans were divided into smaller groups based on these factors. Those with the highest risk included people who had at least one copy of a gene variant associated with Alzheimer’s, named APOE e4.
More than a quarter (28%) of the Europeans carry the gene and four in 10 people of African descent do as well. The group with the lowest risk had a mutation known as APOE e2, which has been previously linked with preventing dementia.
For Europeans, people with the highest scores in the lifestyle factors had a lower risk of dementia across all five genetic groups, including those with APOE e4. Among Africans, a similar pattern of declining dementia risk across all three groups appeared. However, Prof. Tin and colleagues point out the smaller number of participants limits the findings, making more research necessary.
“Larger sample sizes from diverse populations are needed to get more reliable estimates of the effects of these modifiable health factors on dementia risk within different genetic risk groups and ancestral backgrounds,” the study author says.
By the end of the study, 2,234 participants developed dementia, including 1,603 people of European descent and 631 of African descent. Currently, there are roughly six million people in the U.S. with Alzheimer’s.
Again here are Life’s Simple 7:
- Being active
- Eating better
- Losing weight
- Not smoking
- Maintaining healthy blood pressure
- Controlling cholesterol
- Reducing blood sugar
The findings are published in the journal Neurology.
South West News Service writer Mark Waghorn contributed to this report.