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Weak metabolic health raises risk of developing dementia in later life

Medicine: early identification and management of metabolic syndrome could potentially reduce risk of developing dementia later in life

US approves first new Alzheimer's drug in almost two decades
Alzheimer's, the most common form of dementia, is thought to affect 50 million people worldwide and usually starts after age 65 - Copyright AFP/File Philippe LOPEZ
Alzheimer's, the most common form of dementia, is thought to affect 50 million people worldwide and usually starts after age 65 - Copyright AFP/File Philippe LOPEZ

Researchers at Oxford Population Health have found that having poor metabolic health was related to an increased risk of developing dementia in a study of more than 176,000 individuals.

Poor metabolic health is defined as having three or more of the following conditions: high waist circumference, high triglycerides, high blood pressure, high blood glucose, and low high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, sometimes known as ‘good’ cholesterol.

This cluster of conditions are commonly known as ‘metabolic syndrome’. Approximately 20-25 percent of adults globally are estimated to be living with metabolic syndrome. This condition has previously been associated with an increased risk of developing heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes.

The scientists investigated the association between metabolic syndrome and subsequent risk of developing dementia by analysing data from more than 176,000 participants from the U.K. Biobank study.

For this, the health of each participant was tracked through their medical records over a span of 15 years. All participants were aged 60 or older and free of dementia at the start of the study to ensure that the study consisted of people at risk of developing dementia.

In terms of the data set, a total of 73,510 participants (42 percent) had metabolic syndrome when their data were collected at the start of the study. Among those with metabolic syndrome, the most common condition was high blood pressure (96 percent) followed by high triglycerides (74 percent), low HDL-cholesterol (72 percent), high waist circumference (70 percent), and high blood glucose (50 percent).

The data analysis showed that of the 176,249 study participants, 5,255 went on to develop dementia over a 15-year period. Participants with metabolic syndrome had a 12 percent increased risk of developing dementia compared with participants who did not have metabolic syndrome.

This led to the conclusion that having more metabolic syndrome conditions is linked to a greater risk of developing dementia. For example, having four or five conditions (of any combination) increased the risk of dementia by 19 percent and 50 percent, respectively.

It is likely that poor metabolic health could be a key contributing factor, rather than being solely a consequence of dementia. Therefore, lifestyle choices can make a difference.

Danial Qureshi, lthe ead author at Oxford Population Health, states: “Our study findings suggest that early identification and management of metabolic syndrome could potentially reduce risk of developing dementia later in life. Metabolic syndrome is an especially promising target for prevention since each of its individual components are modifiable through lifestyle changes or pharmacological treatments. Learning more about this link is crucial, especially given the rapid increase in dementia cases worldwide and the limited number of effective treatments currently available.”

The study has been published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association.

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Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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