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Heart-healthy lifestyle May Ward Off Alzheimer’s & Diabetes

May 3, 2002

New research suggests what’s good for heart is good for brain. People taking cholesterol drugs called statins reduced their risk of developing Alzheimer’s by 79 percent. Mounting evidence indicates the risk factors for heart disease — high blood pressure, diabetes, excess weight, high cholesterol and lack of exercise — also may play a role in Alzheimer’s disease.

NEW STUDIES presented last week at an international Alzheimer’s conference in Stockholm established the big picture for the first time, giving scientists a better understanding of how to reduce the likelihood the disease.
Over the last few years, hints of a connection between Alzheimer’s and lifestyle have emerged, but scientists have become increasingly interested in investigating such a link and are just now beginning to realize that what is good for the heart may also be good for the brain.
Alzheimer’s is a degenerative brain disease that causes memory loss, disorientation, depression and decay of bodily functions. The disease afflicts about 12 million people worldwide, including more than 4 million Americans. It is increasing so fast that more than 22 million people worldwide will be affected by 2025, experts predict.
Scientists do not know what causes the sticky brain deposits that inevitably kill off neural cells until memory disintegrates and ultimately the patient dies. The biggest risk for Alzheimer’s is simply age: Alzheimer’s cases double with every five years of age between 65 and 85

“While more research is necessary, especially in the form of prevention trials, we’re seeing the strongest evidence yet that there is a relationship between healthy aging and a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s,” said William Thies, vice president of medical and scientific affairs at the Chicago-based Alzheimer’s Association.

Several studies indicated that people may be able to reduce their chances of developing Alzheimer’s by treating high blood pressure.
One 21-year study, by Miia Kivipelto of the University of Kuopio in Finland, examined 1,449 people. It found that the high cholesterol and high blood pressure seemed to be more strongly linked to the risk of developing Alzheimer’s than was a certain gene variation.
However, it seems that having high blood pressure only in later life is not connected to Alzheimer’s.
“Since high blood pressure can be controlled, we may have identified something people can do to lower their chance of developing Alzheimer’s,” said Thies, who was not connected with the research.
Three studies presented at the conference, bolster evidence that taking cholesterol-lowering drugs could reduce the chances of developing Alzheimer’s.
A study by Dr. Robert Green at Boston University School of Medicine found that people taking cholesterol drugs called statins reduced their risk of developing Alzheimer’s by 79 percent. With 2,378 patients, it is the largest study to investigate the connection and the first to include large numbers of black people, who are disproportionately likely to develop Alzheimer’s.

A study presented at the conference by researchers at St. George’s Medical School in London found statins dramatically reduced the production of beta-amyloid.
“The small amounts of beta-amyloid normally found in the blood of healthy people are quickly cleared from the brain,” said the study’s leader Brian Austen. “In the general population, people taking statins to reduce their blood cholesterol, for whatever reason, have a 70 percent reduction rate for Alzheimer’s.”