Smoking, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease

Alzheimer’s disease is widespread. Memory loss is one of the first symptoms of the disease. In the final stages of the illness, sufferers may not recognize the faces and names of their closest friends and relatives.

Although there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, drugs can reduce some of the symptoms. Previous studies suggested a protective effect of smoking on Alzheimer’s disease, but the results of this study challenge this finding. In a population-based follow-up study of 6,870 people aged 55 years and older, it was found that smoking doubled the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. The onset of the illness also occurred about four years earlier in smokers. Smoking not only increases the chances of getting the most common form of senile dementia, but it could also bring it on at a younger age.

The researchers examined whether age, sex, and the apolipoprotein (APO) genotype modified this risk. There are five families of apolipoproteins, designated A-E. Only one form of the gene (APO-E4) had an effect on risk; carriers of this form of the gene were not at increased risk of dementia, which suggests an interaction between the APO-E4 genotype and smoking in the cause of Alzheimer’s disease. Smokers who carry the gene were no more likely to develop the disease than were non-smokers. The researchers are not sure why APO-E4 protects smokers, but they think the nicotine in cigarettes may alter brain chemistry to counterbalance the effects of Alzheimer’s disease.

From the Foundation:

Diet, exercise, dietary supplements, and lifestyle can significantly lower the risk for Alzheimer’s disease. For example, those in Japan who follow the traditional Japanese diet and lifestyle have a very low rate of Alzheimer’s disease, but when these people immigrate to the U.S. and assume the Westernized diet and lifestyle, their Alzheimer’s disease rate increases to that of other U.S. citizens. This fact, in itself, is very strong evidence that we do have control over the risks for Alzheimer’s disease.

Source: From LE Magazine October 1998

Full Source: Lancet, June 20, 1998

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