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Genetic factors link Alzheimer's, cardiovascular disease, study says

Researchers report that managing cholesterol and other aspects of heart disease may help stave off the development of Alzheimer's disease.

By
Tauren Dyson
While the risk factors appear more frequently in people with Alzheimer's disease in their family, researchers report that better control of heart disease risk factors could help delay or prevent the dementia. Photo by Italo Greco/Flickr
While the risk factors appear more frequently in people with Alzheimer's disease in their family, researchers report that better control of heart disease risk factors could help delay or prevent the dementia. Photo by Italo Greco/Flickr

Nov. 12 (UPI) -- The largest study ever of genetic Alzheimer's disease has linked heart disease and dementia, suggesting that controlling heart disease could delay dementia.

Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and the University of California, San Francisco studied 1.5 million people and spotted 90 DNA points linked to both cardiovascular disease and Alzheimer's disease. That included six points that greatly affect heightened blood lipid levels that increase risk for both heart disease and Alzheimer's disease.

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The risk factors appeared more frequently in people with Alzheimer's in their family, even while the subjects themselves didn't display symptoms of dementia.

"These findings represent an opportunity to consider repurposing drugs that target pathways involved in lipid metabolism," Celeste M. Karch, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Washington University School of Medicine, said in a press release. "Armed with these findings, we can begin to think about whether some of those drugs might be useful in preventing or delaying Alzheimer's disease."

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The research, published in the journal Acta Neuropathologica, considered risk factors for heart disease -- such as a high body mass index, type 2 diabetes and elevated triglyceride and cholesterol levels -- to see which ones genetically aligned to Alzheimer's risk.

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"The genes that influenced lipid metabolism were the ones that also were related to Alzheimer's disease risk," Karch said. "Genes that contribute to other cardiovascular risk factors, like body mass index and type 2 diabetes, did not seem to contribute to genetic risk for Alzheimer's."

The research suggests that people who reduce their cholesterol and triglyceride counts could lower the risk for Alzheimer's disease.

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"These results imply that irrespective of what causes what, cardiovascular and Alzheimer's pathology co-occur because they are linked genetically. That is, if you carry this handful of gene variants, you may be at risk not only for heart disease but also for Alzheimer's," said Rahul S. Desikan, an assistant professor of neuroradiology at UC San Francisco.

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