These 3 Things Are "Very Likely" to Lead to a Dementia Diagnosis, Study Says

Is this combination of risk factors putting you in danger?

Right now, 6.5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer's disease (AD), the most common form of dementia. And while there are many risk factors for Alzheimer's that cannot be changed—age, sex, and a genetic predisposition, to name a few—several modifiable factors also appear to contribute to one's likelihood of developing the neurodegenerative disease. Now, a new study is highlighting three crucial factors that may make you more likely to receive a dementia diagnosis—and crucially, two of them can be changed. Read on to learn which combination of factors could be putting you at increased risk, and why you may still be able to turn things around.

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Regularly eating fatty foods has been linked to dementia.

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According to a Jul. 2022 study published in the journal Metabolic Brain Disease, regularly eating a diet rich in fatty foods could lead to a higher likelihood of later developing dementia. While this particular study was performed on mice, it echoes the findings of several other studies that were conducted using human subjects, and which suggest the same.

The initial study highlights and explores the link between obesity and cognitive decline. Ultimately, the team identified three interrelated factors partially triggered by high-fat diets, which they believe "aggravate behavioral disorders and cognitive deficits."

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People already suffering from cognitive decline were more vulnerable to high-fat diets.

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To explore the connection between high-fat diets and dementia, the research team fed two groups of mice a high-fat diet for 30 weeks, beginning at eight weeks old. "Food intake was measured weekly, body weight and fasting glucose levels were measured fortnightly, and a comprehensive behavioral test battery was performed to assess anxiety, depression, and cognitive dysfunction," the team explained of their methodology.

One of the groups consisted of "pR5 mice," which a separate study explains are "characterized by a robust tau pathology particularly in the amygdala and hippocampus." This type of tau pathology is correlated to functional deficits in brains with Alzheimer's disease.

When compared to the control group of mice, which showed no such deficits, the pR5 mice gained more weight, were more likely to develop diabetes, and experienced a more rapid deterioration of cognitive abilities. However, even in the control group, being fed a high-fat diet increased hyperphosphorylated tau—a hallmark of Alzheimer's—in the brains of healthy mice.

These three things are "very likely" to lead to dementia, the study says.

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From these results, the researchers determined three factors they believe contribute to a higher likelihood of developing Alzheimer's dementia. "Our findings underline the importance of addressing the global obesity epidemic. A combination of obesity, age, and diabetes is very likely to lead to a decline in cognitive abilities, Alzheimer's disease and other mental health disorders," said UniSA neuroscientist, biochemist, and Associate Professor Larisa Bobrovskaya, PhD, via press release.

While obesity alone is unlikely to cause dementia, it may leave individuals more vulnerable to cognitive decline, or accelerate symptoms. "Obesity and diabetes impair the central nervous system, exacerbating psychiatric disorders and cognitive decline. We demonstrated this in our study with mice," added Bobrovskaya.

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Having more than one of these factors compounds your risk.

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Perhaps the most striking takeaway of the study was how markedly these factors compound one's risk of certain neurological changes. "Obese individuals have about a 55 percent increased risk of developing depression, and diabetes will double that risk," Bobrovskaya noted.

While there is no cure for Alzheimer's, you may be able to slow its progression by reducing your weight, and thereby reducing your risk of developing diabetes. Speak with your doctor if you believe you are experiencing factors which enhance your dementia risk.

Lauren Gray
Lauren Gray is a New York-based writer, editor, and consultant. Read more
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