Genes that increase the risk of high blood pressure could also lower the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, according to new research.
The study, conducted by scientists from Aarhus University in Denmark, the University of Cambridge and the University of Washingto, could potentially lead to new treatments for Alzheimer’s disease.
Both high blood pressure and Alzheimer’s disease are complications associated with type 2 diabetes. High blood pressure is also associated with type 1 diabetes, but there is as yet no evidence to suggest that type 1 diabetes increases the risk of Alzheimer’s.
The researchers examined the data of more than 54,000 people. 17,008 had Alzheimer’s disease, and 37,154 were older people without Alzheimer’s. The researchers then analysed genes that have historically been linked with a higher risk of Alzheimer’s, such as type 2 diabetes, BMI, cholesterol and blood pressure.
According to their analysis, people with particular genetic variants were less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease. 24 of these genetic variants related to high blood pressure.
The research is promising, but it is currently at a very early stage. The study was unable, for example, to pinpoint exactly why people with these genetic variants had a lower risk of Alzheimer’s; the findings were correlative rather than causational, and further study is needed.
“A person’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease is likely to be influenced by a mix of genetic and lifestyle factors, many of which are not yet fully understood, and this valuable study underlines the complexity,” said Dr. Simon Ridley, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK.
“This type of research can help to gain a better understanding of diabetes risk, but while these are useful results they do not show that having high blood pressure will prevent Alzheimer’s. Other studies have linked high blood pressure to an increased risk of Alzheimer’s, and there are many other known health risks associated with raised blood pressure, so people shouldn’t see this as a sign to abandon a
healthy lifestyle.”
“These results raise the possibility that anti-hypertensive treatments commonly used in this group of people may help protect against Alzheimer’s risk, and it would be important to see studies investigate this further.
“Investment in research is crucial to successfully fight the disease and find ways to prevent it, but in the meantime there are measures people can take to lower their risk. Current evidence suggests that eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly, not smoking, and keeping weight in check can all help to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s.”
The research was published in PLOS Medicine.

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