BOSTON — A family history of dementia is by no means an absolute indictor of a future dementia diagnosis, according to a new study from Boston University. Researchers say that both family history and cardiovascular health influence an individual’s chances of developing dementia.
So, people who are worried about dementia potentially being in their future due to genetics can mitigate their risk by focusing on cultivating a strong and robust cardiovascular system.
At the same time, however, these findings represent a bit of a double-edged sword. People who are both genetically inclined toward dementia and neglect their cardiovascular health are putting themselves in an especially precarious position regarding their cognitive future.
The study gives weight to the notion that while much of one’s traits and proclivities can be traced to genetics, we’re all still very much in charge of their own future. Nothing is predetermined.
Dementia risk more than halved with a healthy heart
Regarding the study’s findings, the presence of dementia-associated common gene variants alone were found to potentially double a person’s risk of dementia. However, if that same person is in strong cardiovascular shape that dementia risk is cut in half.
Researchers say the effects of both genes and cardiovascular health on dementia risk are additive. This means either of those factors can solely raise or lower a person’s dementia risk.
“Just because you have a high genetic risk of dementia doesn’t mean that you can’t lower your risk by adopting a healthier lifestyle,” says study lead author Dr. Gina Peloso, assistant professor of biostatistics at BUSPH, in a release.
‘Genetics is not destiny’
Data on 1,211 people was used for this study. That information was originally collected as part of the Framingham Heart Study. That study single longest-running cardiovascular disease study performed in the United States. The project started in 1948, and the 1,211 people included in this study are the children of the original Farmingham study participants. Genetic data, cardiovascular health information collected between 1991-1995, and dementia screening results from sessions held starting in 1998 are all included in the analysis.
Ultimately, the study’s authors found that people with a high dementia genetic risk score were 2.6 times more likely to develop dementia. Researchers zeroed in on a genotype, “APOE ɛ4,” specifically linked to the condition. The genotype is found in 10-15% of the general population.
To gauge each person’s cardiovascular health, the American Heart Association’s seven components of cardiovascular health was used. Those components include: physical activity, cholesterol, healthy diet, blood pressure, smoking status, blood glucose, and weight.
The results are quite clear. The study shows that adults with strong cardiovascular health were 55% less likely to develop dementia.
“We have long maintained that genetics is not destiny, that the impact of your family history and genetic risk can be lowered by healthy lifestyle choices. This is true for persons with low genetic risk and also for persons with high genetic risk of dementia, so it is never too soon and never too late to adopt a ‘heart-healthy lifestyle,” concludes senior study author Dr. Sudha Seshadri, founding director of the Glenn Biggs Institute for Alzheimer’s and Neurodegenerative Diseases at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.
The study is published in Neurology.