Further evidence shows education reduces risk of Alzheimer's

January 5, 2018, CORDIS
Further evidence shows education reduces risk of Alzheimer’s
Credit: Shutterstock

New research from Cambridge University, supported by European Union funding, has added weight to the theory that education protects against Alzheimer's disease.

A study just published in the British Medical Journal confirms there is a link between education and the build-up of 'plaques' and 'tangles' of misshapen proteins, which lead to the gradual death of cells, characteristic of Alzheimer's disease.

The causes of the disease are still largely unknown and drugs treatments have suffered disappointing set backs in their development. So the focus of attention is shifting to trying to work out how to reduce the number of cases by tackling risk factors before the disease develops. This could be showing some success: research from the Cambridge Institute of Public Health has shown that the incidence of Alzheimer's is falling in the UK, probably due to improvements in education, and smoking reduction and better diet and exercise.

This latest study, titled 'To determine which potentially modifiable risk factors, including socioeconomic, lifestyle/dietary, cardiometabolic, and inflammatory factors, are associated with Alzheimer's disease' involved 17 008 patients with Alzheimer's disease and 37 154 controls. It considered 24 potentially modifiable risk factors.

Conventional observational studies have consistently shown that low is associated with an increased risk and it has been estimated that 19 % of cases are potentially attributable to low education.

Inconclusive evidence from conventional observational studies indicates that the following are risk factors: obesity; hypertension and high cholesterol in midlife; diabetes; smoking; low vitamin D and folate concentrations; hyperhomocysteinaemia (an abnormally high level of homocysteine in the blood), and high C reactive protein concentrations (an acute-phase protein that serves as an early marker of inflammation or infection). Physical activity, a healthy diet, moderate alcohol drinking, and coffee consumption are associated with decreased risk.

The researchers, in part supported by EU through the COSTREAM project, explain that available evidence is in large part inadequate as observational studies generally rely on self-reported information. They are susceptible to doubts arising from the relationship between cause and effect. Data from randomised trials are scarce and inconclusive.

Bringing new evidence into the debate

Researchers grouped the risks into categories: socioeconomic, lifestyle/dietary, cardiometabolic, and inflammatory. They studied genetic variants that increase the risk of a variety of different environmental to see if these were more common in 17 000 patients with Alzheimer's disease. Results showed the strongest association with genetic variants that predict higher educational attainment.

'This provides further strong evidence that education is associated with a reduced risk of Alzheimer's disease,' says first author Dr. Susanna Larsson, 'It suggests that improving education could have a significant effect on reducing the number of people who suffer from this devastating disease.'

How education might reduce the risk of Alzheimer's is uncertain but it could be related to what is known as 'cognitive reserve', the ability to recruit alternative brain networks, or to use brain structures or networks not normally used, in order to compensate for brain ageing. Other research has shown that the same amount of damage in the brain is associated with less severe and less frequent Alzheimer's in people who have received more education, which could support that theory. The evidence points to the fact that , which helps to improve brain wiring, could be increasing the reserve of networks the brain can continue to draw on.

COSTREAM (Common mechanisms and pathways in Stroke and Alzheimer's ) brings together epidemiologists, geneticists, radiologists, neurologists researching the similarities between both conditions, which have an overlapping pathogenesis. The team is harnessing their vast international network in order to link various big datasets along with combining novel analytical strategies with emerging technologies in the field of genomics, metabolomics, and brain MR-imaging.

Explore further: Genetics study suggests that education reduces risk of Alzheimer's disease

Related Stories

Genetics study suggests that education reduces risk of Alzheimer's disease

December 7, 2017
The theory that education protects against Alzheimer's disease has been given further weight by new research from the University of Cambridge, funded by the European Union. The study is published today in the BMJ.

Menopause linked to changes in brain energy use

October 13, 2017
Researchers from Weill Cornell Medicine and the University of Arizona Health Sciences have found that women's brains use less energy during the menopause. The reduction in energy use by the brain was found to be similar to ...

Sleep and Alzheimer's disease connection

October 17, 2017
How often do you get a good night's sleep? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines recommend adults get an average of at least seven hours of sleep a night. Dr. Ronald Petersen, a Mayo Clinic neurologist, says ...

Sleep problems may be early sign of Alzheimer's

July 5, 2017
Poor sleep may be a sign that people who are otherwise healthy may be more at risk of developing Alzheimer's disease later in life than people who do not have sleep problems, according to a study published in the July 5, ...

One in three cases of Alzheimer's worldwide potentially preventable, new estimate suggests

July 14, 2014
A third of Alzheimer's disease cases worldwide can be attributed to risk facts that can be potentially modified, such as lack of education and physical inactivity, according to NIHR-funded research published in The Lancet ...

Nine risk factors may contribute to two-thirds of Alzheimer's cases worldwide

August 20, 2015
Nine potentially modifiable risk factors may contribute to up to two thirds of Alzheimer's disease cases worldwide, suggests an analysis of the available evidence, published online in the Journal of Neurology Neurosurgery ...

Recommended for you

Scientists discover why some people with brain markers of Alzheimer's have no dementia

August 16, 2018
A new study from The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston has uncovered why some people that have brain markers of Alzheimer's never develop the classic dementia that others do. The study is now available in the ...

Researchers identify new genes that may contribute to Alzheimer's disease

August 14, 2018
Researchers from Boston University School of Medicine, working with scientists across the nation on the Alzheimer's Disease Sequencing Project (ADSP), have discovered new genes that will further current understanding of the ...

Deaths from resident-to-resident incidents in dementia offers insights to inform policy

August 14, 2018
Analyzing the incidents between residents in dementia in long-term care homes may hold the key to reducing future fatalities among this vulnerable population, according to new research from the University of Minnesota School ...

Scientists propose a new lead for Alzheimer's research

August 14, 2018
A University of Adelaide-led team of scientists has suggested a potential link between iron in our cells and the rare gene mutations that cause Alzheimer's disease, which could provide new avenues for future research.

Eye conditions provide new lens screening for Alzheimer's disease

August 8, 2018
Alzheimer's disease is difficult to diagnose as well as treat, but researchers now have a promising new screening tool using the window to the brain: the eye.

Potential indicator for the early detection of dementias

August 7, 2018
Researchers at the University of Basel have discovered a factor that could support the early detection of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's or Parkinson's. This cytokine is induced by cellular stress reactions ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.