Determining why and how people develop Alzheimer’s disease is big business. With an estimated 5.3 million Americans living with the disease(1), many researchers are trying to find an explanation for it. Now, a recent study is shedding light on common risk factors for Alzheimer’s, that could explain up to two-thirds of Alzheimer’s cases.
9 Common Risk Factors
The observational study pooled data from over 300 other studies, which researchers then analyzed to identify common Alzheimer’s risk factors. Overall, they identified nine major players when it comes to increasing the risk of developing Alzheimer’s:
- low educational attainment
- high blood pressure
- carotid artery narrowing
- smoking habits
- high levels of an amino acid called homocysteine
- type 2 diabetes
Researchers also found evidence that certain blood pressure medications, vitamins, and hormones can reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s.
“Effective interventions in diet, medications, biochemical exposures, psychological condition, pre-existing disease and lifestyle may decrease new incidence of Alzheimer’s disease,” the study authors concluded(2).
Over the years, there have been many studies, some with conflicting results, on the various risk factors at play when it comes to Alzheimer’s disease. One 2002 study from the American Journal of Epidemiology concluded that “No statistically significant association was found for family history of dementia, sex, history of depression, estrogen replacement therapy, head trauma, antiperspirant or antacid use, smoking high blood pressure, heart disease, or stroke,” adding that “regular physical activity could be an important component of a preventative stragegy against Alzheimer’s disease”(3).
A Canadian study discovered that occupational exposure to fumigants and defoliants may be a significant risk factor(4). The Framingham Heart Study, a large-scale multi-generational study, singled out diabetes as a major risk factor(5). Multiple studies have found that those with low academic achievement – people who don’t go to college or university – are at higher risk for developing the disease.
Early Detection Is Key
The conclusion we can draw from all these studies is that there’s no single cause of Alzheimer’s – and, by extension, no one “magic bullet” that can prevent it.
“Despite intensive laboratory and clinical research over three decades, an effective treatment to delay the onset and progression of Alzheimer’s disease is not at hand,” one article states(6).
However, researchers remain hopeful that presymptomatic treatments for Alzheimers – treatments that could detect and treat the disease before symptoms begin to show – may not be far off.
“Recent clinical trial failures suggest that we must treat the disease earlier than in its mild to moderate stages, and major progress in validating presymptomatic biomarkers now makes secondary prevention trials possible,” they write.
Certainly identifying major risk factors is a key step towards developing new treatments for Alzheimer’s disease.