Our quality of life is a balance of who we are, what we eat, and how we maintain our bodies. Although some risk factors for certain health conditions are a matter of heredity, including race, many factors can be modified or controlled through lifestyle changes and proper diet as well as through the use of medication.
A new series of studies has shown that obesity in combination with diabetes and heart disease can work together to hasten the onset of dementia as well as other mental disabilities. When you look at the risk factors for heart disease and diabetes, you will find obesity at the top of the list. A diet rich in fatty foods is a major component for the development of heart disease while a diet containing too many starchy, sugary foods and not enough fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are key ingredients for developing diabetes.
Other risk factors for heart related conditions include diabetes, poor sleep habits and high blood pressure, as well as lifestyle factors that include smoking, lack of exercise while major risk factors for diabetes include low thyroid levels, having a low activity rate and even pregnancy.
The American Heart Association’s prescription for healthy living includes avoiding tobacco smoke, monitoring high blood pressure, eating food low in cholesterol and saturated fats, being physically active, maintaining a healthy weight, and having regular medical exams.
The new reports published in the March issue of Neurology suggest that steps can be taken to reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease as well as other forms of dementia. In one such report, Dr. Kristine Yaffe, a professor at the University of California, San Francisco, and director of the Memory Disorders Clinic at the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center, found that metabolic syndrome, which is the combination of being obese while having both high blood pressure and a low level of good cholesterol (HDL), was linked to a 23 percent greater risk for cognitive impairment among older women. Data for this study was collected on 4,895 women with no cognitive impairment at the beginning of the study. The average age of the women was 66. During the study, approximately 7 percent of the 497 women with metabolic syndrome developed cognitive impairment, compared to only 4 percent of those women who did not suffer from the condition. The authors concluded, “As the obesity and sedentary lifestyle epidemic escalates throughout the world, identification of the role of these modifiable behaviors in increasing risk for development of deleterious outcomes, such as cognitive impairment, is critical.”
In another study, Yaffe's research team discovered that a cognitive risk exists for obese men as well. Data was collected on 3,054 older men and women who were given tests at the start of the study as well as at intervals of three, five and eight years. In comparing the scores of each participant, the researchers found that men who were obese had a greater likelihood of experiencing cognitive decline although no correlation between obesity and cognitive decline among women was noted.
In a third study, Annette L. Fitzpatrick, a research associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Washington, in Seattle, and colleagues found in that that obesity among middle-aged people led to an increased risk for dementia. Fitzpatrick’s team collected data on 2,798 men and women having an average age of 75 years, with no signs of dementia at the beginning of the study. During a follow-up period of over five years, at total 480 participants developed dementia, with 245 of them being diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. The key difference in this study when compared to the two previously mentioned was that beyond the age of 65, underweight people were found to be at higher risk for dementia rather than obese people. The researchers noted that in fact, obesity seemed to have a protective effect.
The authors of the study concluded, “The greatest dementia risk was found in underweight individuals at older ages” and explained, “These findings suggest the predictive ability of BMI (body-mass index) changes across time.” The authors also noted that these findings “help explain the obesity paradox as differences in dementia risk across time are consistent with physical changes in the trajectory toward disability.”
Elizabeth P. Helzner and colleagues from Columbia University Medical Center in New York City suggest in yet a fourth report that people having high bad (LDL) cholesterol levels as well as higher total cholesterol levels in combination with having diabetes experience a faster cognitive decline after developing Alzheimer's disease. Helzner’s team collected data on 156 patients suffering from Alzheimer's disease and having an average age of 83. This research group concluded that their study “provides further evidence for the role of vascular risk factors in the course of Alzheimer's disease” and further noted, “Prevention or treatment of these conditions can potentially slow the course of Alzheimer's disease.”
The collective results of these studies suggest that a link exists between the lifestyles of people and their rate of cognitive decline. The findings also define the need for people need to make necessary lifestyle changes in middle age to preserve their mental abilities.
The most common form of dementia among older people is Alzheimer's disease. Alzheimer’s affects about 5.2 million people in the United States alone as well as 26 million globally and has no known cure.