By Kate Kelland
LONDON—Living healthily with a good diet and regular exercise may help people with a higher genetic susceptibility to dementia to offset the risk of developing it, according to recent research.
The risk of dementia was reduced by 32% in people with a high genetic risk if they had followed a healthy lifestyle, compared to those who had an unhealthy lifestyle, researchers reported online July 14 in JAMA and in a presentation at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference in Los Angeles.
People with high genetic risk and an unhealthy lifestyle were almost three times more likely to develop dementia than those with low genetic risk who also lived healthily.
"Our findings are exciting as they show that we can take action to try to offset our genetic risk for dementia," said Elzbieta Kuzma, a researcher at Britain's University of Exeter who co-led the study.
Kuzma's team analysed data from almost 197,000 adults of European ancestry who were aged 60 and older. They found 1,769 cases of dementia over a median follow-up period of eight years and grouped those cases into people with high, medium and low genetic risks for dementia.
To assess lifestyle, the researchers looked at the participants' self-reported diet, physical activity, smoking and alcohol consumption.
Non-smokers who took regular exercise and had a good diet with moderate alcohol intake were considered to have the healthiest lifestyles - and these people were found to have reduced their risk whether they were in high, medium or low genetic risk groups.
Of the participants with a high genetic risk and unfavorable lifestyle, 1.78% developed dementia, compared with 0.56% of participants with low genetic risk and favorable lifestyle and 1.13% of those with a high genetic risk but with a favorable lifestyle.
David Llewellyn, also of Exeter University, said the findings held an important message that undermined what he described as "a fatalistic view of dementia".
"Some people believe it's inevitable they'll develop dementia because of their genetics," he said. "(But) you may be able to substantially reduce your dementia risk by living a healthy lifestyle".
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