SEP 16, 2019 3:30 PM PDT

Can Lifestyle Changes Switch Off Dementia Genes?

WRITTEN BY: Annie Lennon

Around 50 million people have dementia worldwide, with 10 million new cases emerging each year (World Health Organization: 2019). Most prominent in people over 60, its causes are widely debated and clinical trials for drugs to stop or slow its progression are often disappointing. This in mind, researchers are now looking into how lifestyle changes may be able to slow down, or even prevent the onset of dementia. 

Dementia is an umbrella term for a variety of diseases known to cause memory loss. Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is the most common variety of dementia, happening when plaques of tangled proteins form in the brain. Another type is vascular dementia, thought to happen by damaged blood vessels in the brain. Whatever the variety however, experts believe that both genetic and lifestyle factors, including exercise, diet and habits such as smoking, contribute to the likelihood of dementia. 

Although CRISPR techniques to combat dementia are under development to edit dementia-causing genes, as of yet, the genes behind this condition are still considered unmodifiable (Fernandez: 2019). As lifestyle changes are more flexible, focus is now being put on how these can be managed to prevent progression of the disease. 

For example, a recent study published in JAMA analyzing medical records of 196, 383 people aged 60 and older found that healthy lifestyles were associated with a lower risk of dementia in participants with both high and low genetic risk factor  (Lourida: 2019). In fact, they found that those with both an unhealthy lifestyle and a high genetic risk score were more than twice as likely than those with low genetic risk scores and healthy lifestyles to develop dementia. 

Despite this however, they found that lifestyle and genetic factors were not synergistic in predicting dementia risk. Instead, they act independently of each other. This means that although people with a high genetic risk for dementia and unhealthy lifestyles may be more at risk, their overall risk is still calculated from a direct sum of both their lifestyle and genetic factors, as opposed to the two leading to an exponential increase in risk (Patel: 2019). 

Although interesting findings, due to the few lifestyle factors analyzed as well as the lack of clinical trials to verify them, it is worthwhile regarding them with caution. Researchers from Harvard Medical said, “choosing a candidate list doesn’t capture our complex lifestyles and may lead to false findings. For example, what exactly constitutes a “healthy” diet (ibid.)?” They further pointed out the issue of compounding factors. For example, if weight is associated with diet and dementia, then it may be difficult to separate it from being associated with diet. 

To conclude, although certain correlations have been found between a subjective “healthy” lifestyle and the risk of developing dementia, they are inconclusive due to the complexity of lifestyle choices that were otherwise not investigated. Despite this however, as regular exercise and abstaining from habits such as smoking and alcohol consumption have positive health effects regardless, physicians recommend these lifestyle habits regardless. 

 

Sources 

 

World Health Organization 

Fernandez, Tara: Massive Science

Lourida, Ilianna: JAMA Network 

Patel, Chirag: Harvard Health Publishing 

 

About the Author
  • Annie graduated from University College London and began traveling the world. She is currently a writer with keen interests in genetics, psychology and neuroscience; her current focus on the interplay between these fields to understand how to create meaningful interactions and environments.
You May Also Like
DEC 20, 2019
Genetics & Genomics
DEC 20, 2019
Can We Cure Down's Syndrome with Gene Therapy?
Down’s Syndrome (DS) is a genetic disorder brought on by the presence of all of part of a third copy of chromosome 21. Linked to delays in physical g...
DEC 25, 2019
Genetics & Genomics
DEC 25, 2019
Genetic Mutations Carried Only in Sperm May Affect a Child's Risk of Autism
Some genetic factors that contribute to ASD may involve mutations that are present only in a father's sperm....
DEC 31, 2019
Genetics & Genomics
DEC 31, 2019
Should the Scientist Behind World's First Gene Edited Babies be in Prison?
He Jiankui, the scientist behind the world’s first gene-edited babies in 2018, has been sentenced to three years in prison by Chinese authorities for...
JAN 19, 2020
Immunology
JAN 19, 2020
Overactive Immune Gene May Cause Schizophrenia
A windy road links excessive activity of the “C4” gene to the development of schizophrenia. Researchers begin to study C4 activity as part of n...
FEB 09, 2020
Microbiology
FEB 09, 2020
Investigating the Links Between Viruses and Cancer
The Pan-Cancer Analysis of Whole Genomes (PCAWG) has brought over 1,300 scientists together to gain new insights into the genetics of cancer....
FEB 10, 2020
Genetics & Genomics
FEB 10, 2020
The Broken Genes of the Last Woolly Mammoths
Wooly mammoths are thought to have died out around 4,000 years ago in a remote area off the Siberian coast, called Wrangel Island....
Loading Comments...