Doing This One Thing Could Drop Your Alzheimer's Risk by 30 Percent
New research has found that a simple flu shot could make all the difference.
Are you diligent about getting your annual flu shot? It's a preventative measure that can be easy to forget—and may be neglected by more people this fall and winter, due to the COVID pandemic—but new research shows that it may do more than just fortify your body against a seasonal sickness. A new study presented on July 27 at the virtual Alzheimer's Association International Conference (AAIC) shows that getting a flu shot regularly could reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer's disease by up to 30 percent.
According to a conference press release, a study led by University of Texas medical student Albert Amran found that getting one flu shot "was associated with a 17 percent reduction in Alzheimer's incidence" in the data reviewed, and that getting regular flu shots was associated with an additional 13 percent reduction. Researchers also found that the association was greater in patients who started getting flu shots at a younger age.
"Our study suggests that regular use of a very accessible and relatively cheap intervention—the flu shot—may significantly reduce risk of Alzheimer's dementia," said Amran in a statement. "More research is needed to explore the biological mechanism for this effect—why and how it works in the body—which is important as we explore effective preventive therapies for Alzheimer's."
A separate study, led by Svetlana Ukraintseva, PhD, of the Biodemography of Aging Research Unit (BARU) at Duke University, and also presented at the conference, discovered that getting vaccinated against pneumonia between the ages of 65 and 75 was associated with lower risk—between 25 and 30 percent—of developing Alzheimer's later in life. Among non-carriers of the Alzheimer's risk gene alone, the pneumonia vaccine caused the risk to drop by 40 percent.
In its coverage of the studies, NPR notes the pervasive myth that flu shots somehow make one more prone to Alzheimer's. These results dispel that myth and more, though more study is needed to determine exactly why flu shots and the pneumococcal vaccination are associated with a lower risk of Alzheimer's. Among a few possible reasons are that flu and pneumonia "are known to affect the brain," per NPR. Therefore, protecting against those infections also protects the brain. Another reason could be the general boost to the immune system offered by regular vaccinations.
Yet another possibility is that the association speaks more to the overall behavior of the vaccinated person than it does to the direct impact of a flu shot on the body.
"It may turn out to be as simple as if you're taking care of your health in this way—getting vaccinated—you're also taking care of yourself in other ways, and these things add up to lower risk of Alzheimer's and other dementias," said Maria C. Carrillo, PhD, chief science officer of the Alzheimer's Association. "This research, while early, calls for further studies in large, diverse clinical trials to inform whether vaccinations as a public health strategy decrease our risk for developing dementia as we age."
And for more on staying sharp, this New Study Shows Even a Small Amount of Alcohol Ages Your Brain.