EMBARGOED FOR PUBLICATION UNTIL 4 PM ET WED 25 MAY 2022
MINNEAPOLIS – According to a study published online May 25, 2022, seven healthy habits and lifestyle factors may play a role in lowering the risk of dementia in those at highest genetic risk neurology®the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.
The seven cardiovascular and brain health factors, known as the American Heart Association’s Life’s Simple 7, are: being active, eating better, losing weight, not smoking, maintaining healthy blood pressure, controlling cholesterol, and lowering blood sugar.
“These healthy habits in Life’s Simple 7 have been associated with an overall lower risk of dementia, but it’s uncertain if the same is true for people at high genetic risk,” said study author Adrienne Tin, PhD, of the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson. “The good news is that even people at the highest genetic risk who live the same healthier lifestyle are likely to have a lower risk of dementia.”
The study looked at 8,823 people of European descent and 2,738 people of African descent who were followed for 30 years. The average age of the subjects at the start of the study was 54 years.
Study participants reported their scores on all seven health factors. The total score ranged from 0 to 14, with 0 representing the unhealthiest score and 14 representing the healthiest score. The average score for people of European descent was 8.3 and the average score for people of African descent was 6.6.
The researchers calculated genetic risk scores at the start of the study using genome-wide statistics of Alzheimer’s disease, which were used to study genetic risk for dementia.
Participants of European descent were divided into five groups and participants of African descent were divided into three groups based on genetic risk scores. The group at highest genetic risk included people who had at least one copy of the APOE gene variant associated with Alzheimer’s disease, APOE e4. Of those of European ancestry, 27.9% had the APOE e4 variant, while of those of African ancestry, 40.4% had the APOE e4 variant. The lowest risk group had the APOE e2 variant, which has been associated with a reduced risk of dementia.
At the end of the study, 1,603 people of European descent developed dementia and 631 people of African descent developed dementia.
In people of European descent, the researchers found that people with the highest scores on lifestyle factors had a lower risk of dementia in all five genetic risk groups, including the group with the highest genetic risk of dementia. For every one point increase in Lifestyle Factor Score, the risk of developing dementia was reduced by 9%. Among those of European ancestry, the moderate and high categories were associated with a 30% and 43% reduced risk of dementia, respectively, compared to the low category of the lifestyle factor score. Among those of African descent, the intermediate and high categories were associated with a 6% and 17% lower risk of dementia, respectively.
In people of African descent, the researchers found a similar pattern of decreasing risk of dementia in all three groups among those with higher scores on the lifestyle factors. However, the researchers said the smaller number of participants in this group limited the results, so more research is needed.
“Larger samples from different populations are needed to obtain more reliable estimates of the impact of these modifiable health factors on dementia risk within different genetic risk groups and ancestry,” Tin said.
A limitation of the study was the smaller sample size in people of African descent and that many African American participants were recruited from one location.
The study was supported by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the National Human Genome Research Institute.
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