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Study Identifies Key Risk Factors for Dementia: Diabetes, Air Pollution, and Alcohol

In a groundbreaking analysis, British and American researchers have pinpointed three major risk factors significantly associated with dementia: diabetes, air pollution, and alcohol consumption. Utilizing advanced brain imaging techniques, the study honed in on a neurological network dubbed a "weak spot" in the brain, known for its susceptibility to aging and various neurodegenerative diseases.

Led by Gwenaëlle Douaud, an associate professor of clinical neurosciences at the University of Oxford, the research team delved into brain scans from over 40,000 seniors participating in the U.K. Biobank project. In addition to brain imaging, participants provided detailed lifestyle and medical histories, offering a comprehensive dataset for analysis.

The study examined the impact of 161 different risk factors on the targeted neural network associated with dementia. Factors ranged from traditional health indicators like blood pressure and cholesterol to lifestyle factors such as alcohol consumption, smoking, and environmental influences like air pollution.

Among the myriad factors analyzed, three emerged as particularly detrimental to the vulnerable brain network: diabetes, traffic-related air pollution, and alcohol consumption. According to Douaud, these specific risk factors were found to exacerbate degeneration in key brain regions associated with aging and neurodegenerative diseases.

Furthermore, the study shed light on specific genetic variations that may influence an individual's susceptibility to dementia-related brain degeneration. Variations in the genome linked to cardiovascular diseases, schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, and Parkinson's were identified as potential contributors to the vulnerability of the targeted brain network.

Published in the journal Nature Communications, the study represents a significant advancement in understanding the complex interplay between modifiable risk factors and brain health. Co-author Dr. Anderson Winkler, an associate professor of human genetics at The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, emphasized the study's unique approach in assessing the individual contribution of each risk factor to the degeneration of the identified brain "weak spot."

By accounting for age and sex differences, the study conclusively identified diabetes, air pollution, and alcohol consumption as the most harmful factors influencing dementia risk. These findings underscore the critical importance of addressing modifiable risk factors to mitigate the burden of dementia and preserve brain health in ageing populations.

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