Healthy lifestyles can offset the genetic risk of dementia by 32%

Lifestyle choices can help reduce an individual’s genetic risk of dementia, a new paper reports.


Image credits Matan Ray Vizel.

New research led by researchers from the University of Exeter found that people with a high genetic risk of dementia has a 32% lower risk of developing the syndrome if they followed a healthy lifestyle, compared with their counterparts who had an unhealthy lifestyle. Participants with high genetic risk and an unfavourable lifestyle were almost three times more likely to develop dementia than those with a low genetic risk and a favourable lifestyle (a 2.83 increased occurrence of dementia from any cause).

Do good, be good

“This research delivers a really important message that undermines a fatalistic view of dementia,” says co-lead author Dr. David Llewellyn, from the University of Exeter Medical School and the Alan Turing Institute.

“Some people believe it’s inevitable they’ll develop dementia because of their genetics. However it appears that you may be able to substantially reduce your dementia risk by living a healthy lifestyle.”

The team worked with data from 196,383 adults of European ancestry aged 60 and older from UK Biobank. Out of this sample, the team identified 1,769 cases of dementia over the follow-up period of eight years. They then grouped all participants into three groups: those with high, intermediate, and low genetic risk for dementia.

“Our findings are exciting as they show that we can take action to try to offset our genetic risk for dementia,” says Joint lead author Dr Elzbieta Kuzma. “Sticking to a healthy lifestyle was associated with a reduced risk of dementia, regardless of the genetic risk.”

In order to assess genetic risk for dementia, the team looked at previous research to identify all currently-known genetic risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease. Each genetic risk factor was weighted according to the strength of its association with the disease.

To assess lifestyle, the team defined three groups based on their self-reported diet, physical activity, smoking, and alcohol consumption: favorable, intermediate, and unfavorable. People who didn’t currently smoke, engaged in regular physical activity, had a healthy diet, and only had moderate levels of alcohol intake were considered to be part of the ‘favorable’ group. A healthy lifestyle was associated with a reduced risk of dementia across all the genetic risk groups.

The paper “Association of Lifestyle and Genetic Risk With Incidence of Dementia” has been published in the journal JAMA

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