Researchers at the Johns Hopkins University of Medicine conducting a 25-year study have found that an increasing number of mid-life vascular risk factors are associated with elevated levels of brain amyloid in later life, which could lead to Alzheimer’s disease.
Alzheimer’s has previously been linked to vascular disease, which affects the arteries and veins in the circulatory system, and vascular risk factors affecting people in middle age have been associated with an increased risk of developing dementia in later life. However, researchers have not previously known whether they directly contribute to the changes in the brain.
The researchers taking part in the study have now found that having two or more mid-life (average age 52) vascular risk factors compared with none was significantly associated with elevated amyloid deposition in the brain.
The mid-life risk factors include having a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more, smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes and total cholesterol of 200 mg/dl or greater.
As one of the researchers put it, it appears that an increasing number of mid-life vascular risk factors was “significantly associated” with elevated amyloid SUVR (standard uptake value ratio). However, this association was not significant for late-life risk factors.
The research supports the concept that mid-life, but not late life, exposure to these five vascular risk factors is important for amyloid deposition, which could lead to the development of Alzheimer’s disease.
Given these results, there is greater urgency on determining the potential cases of Alzheimer’s disease earlier in a person’s life, as the vulnerable period for brain health might be decades before any of the cognitive problems associated with dementia develop.