Living a healthy lifestyle may help counteract a person’s genetic risk of dementia, international research has found.
The risk of dementia was 32% lower in people with a high genetic risk if they followed a healthy lifestyle, compared to those with an unhealthy lifestyle.
Results of the study, led by the University of Exeter, US, in collaboration with researchers from the University of South Australia, (UniSA) the University of Michigan, US, and the University of Oxford, UK, were presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference held in Los Angeles this month.
Study participants with high genetic risk and an unfavourable lifestyle were almost three times more likely to develop dementia compared to those with a low genetic risk and favourable lifestyle.
The study analysed data from 196,383 adults of European ancestry, aged 60 years and older from the UK Biobank.
The researchers identified 1,769 cases of dementia over an eight-year period.
Study participants were grouped into those with high, intermediate and low genetic risk for dementia.
Lifestyle factors assessed included diet, physical activity, smoking and alcohol consumption.
The researchers found living a healthy lifestyle was associated with reduced dementia risk across all genetic risk groups.
“Sticking to a healthy lifestyle was associated with a reduced risk of dementia, regardless of the genetic risk,” University of Exeter Medical School’s Dr Elzbieta Kuzma said.
Director of UniSA’s Australian Centre for Precision Health Professor Elina Hypponen and senior collaborator in the research, said the lifestyle choices that appeared to work against dementia were those also known to be beneficial for reducing the risks of other chronic disease, including cardiovascular disease and cancer.
“This study suggests that much of dementia is preventable. There is a saying, that ‘what is good for your heart, is good for your brain’, and these results very much support that notion.”
University of Exeter Medical School’s Dr David Llewellyn said the research undermined the fatalistic view of dementia.
“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 study was published in JAMA.