Environmental, Lifestyle Factors May Increase Risk of Alzheimer's
Have you ever thought about your environment? I thought about my own home environment yesterday as I was cleaning up for the cleaning lady. And I’ve been thinking about my yard recently since we’re starting to see hints of spring emerge (finally). But I hadn’t thought about these two environmental components – as well as the larger environment in general – in relationship to Alzheimer’s. And that may be a mistake!
Perusing a Wall Street Journal story on the chemicals we encounter daily that remain in our body, I saw a mention about Alzheimer’s disease. And that got me questioning whether environmental factors play a part in the development of this disease.
Interestingly, two recent studies point to some factors that are believed to have an association with a higher risk of dementia. These are:
- Overcooked meats. A new study indicates that a chemical produced in grilled and smoked meats may increase your risk of dementia. The chemical is known as advanced glycation end (AGE), which forms when protein and fat react with sugars. High levels of AGEs suppress sirtuin, which causes changes in brain function. In the study, researchers gave mice diets that varied in levels of AGEs. The mice that consumed a diet high in these chemicals (which is similar to what people in the United States and other Western countries often eat) showed decreased cognitive functioning. The researchers then looked at blood samples from 93 adults over the age of 60. They found that participants who had higher AGE levers also had higher levels of cognitive decline. Based on this study’s results, researchers encourage people to use alternative methods of cooking -- such as boiling, poaching and stewing -- instead of grilling and frying.
- A chemical component from the pesticide, DDT. Researchers analyzed the level of a component in the pesticide, called DDE, in 96 people who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. They compared these levels with samples taken from 79 people who did not have this diagnosis. All of the participants’ brains were also dissected after their deaths to confirm they had Alzheimer’s. The researchers found that the study participants who had Alzheimer’s had a four-time higher DDE level in their blood as compared to the other study participants. The researchers also determined that the participants who were most at risk cognitively were those who had high levels of DDE as well as a variation of the APOE gene, which increases the risk of Alzheimer’s. Although it’s been banned since 1972 in the United States, DDT hasn’t gone away. In fact, some countries continue to use this pesticide in order to battle mosquitoes that can cause malaria. You can be exposed to DDT through consuming contaminated fish, meat and dairy products.
Now for the good news! Researchers also have determined that a few environmental factors may have gotten a bad rap. These include:
- Aluminum, which was considered a potential cause of Alzheimer’s during the 1960s and 1970s. However, studies do not support this concern, so you can continue to use your aluminum foil, pots and pants, and antiperspirants.
- Aspartame, an artificial sweetener, which also was believed to be a culprit. However, more than 100 studies do not support this theory.
- Flu shots, which have been cleared of increasing the risk of Alzheimer’s. In fact, some studies have found that flu shots actually lead to a reduced risk of developing dementia. (And based on hearing some of my friends’ battles with the flu this year, I think it’s really important to get this shot on an annual basis.)
- Silver dental fillings. Research that came out between 1991 and 2003 didn’t find evidence linking these types of dental fillings with Alzheimer’s disease.
Environmental factors will continue to be explored as a possible cause of dementia. In fact, the Department of Health and Human Services is currently reviewing research proposals that are designed to look at links between environmental exposure and the risk for Alzheimer’s disease. This type of research is important because it will help us make better decisions about what we’re doing (like how we cook) and what we’re allowing in (or near) our bodies.
Primary Sources for This Sharepost:
Alzheimer’s Association. (ND). Alzheimer’s myths.
National Institutes of Health. (2013). Department of Health and Human Services grant.
Nature World News. (2014). Grilled, smoked meat linked with dementia.
Szabo, L. (2014). DDT exposure linked to Alzheimer’s disease. USA Today.