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article imageWhy are Alzheimer's rates higher in wealthy countries?

By Tim Sandle     Sep 6, 2013 in Health
People living in 'wealthy' countries appear more likely to develop Alzheimer's disease due to greatly reduced contact with bacteria, viruses and other microorganisms. This leads to them having weaker immune systems.
This argument comes from researcher who state that they’ve found a significant relationship between a nation's wealth and hygiene and the rate of Alzheimer's in a population. This has been undertaken through a review of population birth rate, life expectancy and age structure across a number of countries. Essentially, after adjusting for differences in population age structures, the study found that countries with higher levels of sanitation had higher rates of Alzheimer's.
The thinking behind relates to the so-called hygiene hypothesis. The hygiene hypothesis states that a lack of early childhood exposure to infectious agents, symbiotic microorganisms (e.g., gut flora or probiotics), and parasites increases susceptibility to allergic diseases by suppressing natural development of the immune system. The lack of microbe and bacterial contact can lead to insufficient development of the white blood cells that defend the body against infection.
Some examples drawn from the study are that countries where all people have access to clean drinking water, such as the UK and France, there are 9% higher Alzheimer's rates than countries where less than half of the population have access, to clean water such as Kenya and Cambodia. Furthermore, countries that have much lower rates of infectious disease, such as Switzerland and Iceland, have 12% higher rates of Alzheimer's compared with countries with high rates of infectious disease, such as China and Ghana.
One key factor could be the increase in adult life expectancy across industrialized nations and Alzheimer's prevalence. Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia. There is currently no cure for the disease and the illness worsens as it progresses, and eventually leads to death.
The study was carried out by Dr Molly Fox, who conducted the research at Cambridge University’s Biological Anthropology division. The findings have been published in the journal Evolution, Medicine, and Public Health in a study called “Hygiene and the world distribution of Alzheimer's Disease.”
More about Alzheimer's disease, Alzheimer, Dementia, Wealth, Health
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