The number of people living with dementia is increasing every year. An increasing number of studies show that this rise in dementia has much to do with poor metabolic health. Now a new study analyzing the health records of more than 26 thousand people in the UK found that those living with adverse metabolic markers were also more likely to have less gray matter and hippocampal volume, and thus more significant dementia risk. Every research just strengthens the age-old notion that a “healthy brain resides in a healthy body.” Our ancestors have known this by observations. However, now science is providing evidence that there is a direct relationship between metabolic health and brain health. Unlike olden times, modern diagnostic methods have enabled us to develop a better understanding.
Health experts never had a doubt that the rise of brain disorders, especially dementia, has much to do with lifestyle choices and metabolic health. However, knowing is one thing, but proving another. One cannot act on assumptions or even observations. Medical or health interventions must be based on firm scientific evidence. WHO data suggests that there are almost 55 million people living with dementia globally, and Alzheimer’s is the leading cause of dementia1. There are many factors suggesting that this high prevalence of dementia in modern times has much to do with lifestyle choices and metabolic disorders. Firstly, human genes have not changed much in the last century, but the prevalence of dementia has risen considerably. Secondly, people in developed nations like the US or UK are more likely to develop dementia than those living in developing countries like India or Nigeria.
While the discussion of brain health is important, it is also crucial to address the opioid epidemic and its effects on brain health. Studies have shown that long-term opioid use can lead to decreased brain function and an increased risk of developing dementia. This is why the use of Suboxone in opioid addiction treatment is crucial in not only helping individuals overcome their addiction but also in reducing the risk of developing brain disorders. By utilizing a combination of behavioral therapy and medication-assisted treatment, individuals can receive the support they need to overcome addiction and protect their brain health.
These differences in dementia’s prevalence in various nations cannot be explained solely based on the higher life expectancy in the developed world. However, if we look closely, it is easy to see that apart from dementia, the prevalence of metabolic disorders like obesity and dyslipidemia is also higher in developed nations. Now a new study suggests that the risk of dementia is proportional to metabolic health. So higher the metabolic changes in the body, the greater is dementia’s risk. In the new study, researchers analyzed the data of 26,339 individuals in the UK Biobank. They found that obesity, liver and kidney stress, and inflammation significantly impacted brain health2. What the study did was analyze six metabolic profiles and 39 cardiometabolic markers and then compare them with MRI brain scans, measuring brain volume, looking for brain lesions, iron accumulation, and other early risk factors for dementia.
They found that obese people and individuals living with significant adverse changes in metabolic profile also had adverse MRI profiles showing lower gray matter and hippocampal volumes, a greater burden of brain lesions, and iron accumulation. The study also found that people with the highest Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR), which shows how much energy the body needs when resting to support its basic functions, also had a higher risk of brain disorder. But, again, it is because BMR tends to be higher in obese individuals. These findings are important in the way that, to date, there are no reliable early biomarkers of dementia risk. Though, researchers know quite well that dementia begins decades before its diagnosis.
It means that using the study findings, and health experts can predict the risk of dementia in people. Not only that, the right time to prevent dementia is at a young age. One of the reasons why health measures, supplements, and lifestyle changes fail to prevent dementia is that many people start using these measures quite late. Most people are diagnosed with dementia in their 60s or even later. However, changes in the body leading to dementia start occurring in people in their 30s. It means that if we want to reduce our dementia risk, we must take measures at a young age. Once specific changes have occurred in the brain, they are almost impossible to reverse.
By Gurpreet Singh Padda, MD, MBA, MHP