How can a serious medical problem affecting almost half of all adults over the age of 60 be so little known?
It’s especially surprising when you consider that this health problem increases the risk of heart attack, stroke, diabetes, liver disease and kidney disease. Now, the latest research shows that we can add dementia to the list of terrible maladies knocking at your door when you have metabolic syndrome (MetS).
Metabolic syndrome is a serious health condition that’s largely forgotten, but with the dangers it poses to your memory and brain health it should be front and center.
Metabolic syndrome may be little known but the conditions that make up the syndrome are extremely well known. A diagnosis is made if a person has any three or more of the following, even if medication is taken to control them:
- Large waist circumference (abdominal obesity): Men: greater than 40 inches. Women: greater than 35 inches.
- Elevated triglycerides (blood fats): 150mg/dL or more.
- Low HDL (good) cholesterol: Men: less than 40mg/dL. Women: less than 50mg/dL.
- High blood pressure: 130/85mmHg or higher.
- Elevated fasting blood sugar: 100mg/dL or more.
MetS increases the risk of many serious conditions, yet studies linking it to dementia have produced inconsistent results.
Previous Studies Fall Short
A meta-analysis of nine studies containing over 18,000 participants aged 40 or more found a 12 percent increased risk of dementia in people with metabolic syndrome after a nine year follow up. Surprisingly, in relation to the study parameters this didn’t reach statistical significance. But researchers were willing to concede that MetS did increase progression from mild cognitive impairment (MCI) to dementia.
Two other studies both reported an increased risk of dementia of between ten and 15 percent.
The problem with most studies has been either they don’t contain enough participants or else the follow-up period is too short. This makes it hard to determine whether MetS genuinely increases dementia risk. And if so, by how much.
To overcome these shortcomings a research group from the University of Oxford used data taken from the U.K. Biobank.
All Five MetS Conditions Raise Risk
Dramatically—Up To 50 Percent!
The study included 176,249 dementia-free participants aged 60 or older at baseline, or the beginning of the study. Of these, 73,510 (42 percent) had MetS. The most common MetS condition was high blood pressure (96 percent) followed by high triglycerides (74 percent), low HDL-cholesterol (72 percent), high waist circumference (70 percent), and high blood glucose (50 percent).
After 15 years of follow-up, 5,255 participants developed dementia. Compared to those without MetS, participants with the syndrome had a 12 percent increased risk of dementia—very similar to the result from the first study we told you about earlier.
In addition, the researchers found that the more MetS conditions a person had, the greater the risk of developing dementia. For instance, having four of the conditions in any combination increased the risk by 19 percent. For those with all five it increased the risk by a whopping 50 percent.
Since the brain starts being harmed well before the onset of dementia symptoms, reverse causation could possibly play a role. In other words, dementia may lead to changes in diet and metabolism that give rise to the syndrome. The researchers are confident this isn’t the case, however, because their results remained consistent across different follow-up time periods.
Defeat MetS With Lifestyle Changes
Danial Qureshi, first author of the study published in the journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia in September, explained, saying, “Our study findings suggest that early identification and management of metabolic syndrome could potentially reduce risk of developing dementia later in life.
“Metabolic syndrome is an especially promising target for prevention since each of its individual components is modifiable through lifestyle changes or pharmacological treatments.”
And the most important single change to lifestyle that a person with MetS can make is diet.
Proven ways to tackle both diabetes and obesity together are, as we’ve reported in past issues, a low-calorie diet or a low carbohydrate diet. Either of these two will also have a positive impact on the other components of MetS, such as blood pressure and blood fats. In other words, they’re a win-win, not just for your waistline but for your overall health and well-being.
The Awakening From Alzheimer’s Team