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Study says genes linked to body’s use of cholesterol, fat and heart disease also increase Alzheimer’s risk

A study of more than 1.5 million people found that some of the genes that increase the risk of heart disease also increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. It might mean, eventually, that managing cholesterol and fat in the diet could lower some people’s risk for Alzheimer’s.

Illustration by Michael Worful

The study, published in the journal Acta Neuropathologica, looked at the differences in the DNA of people with factors that contribute to heart or Alzheimer’s disease and identified 90 points across the genome that were associated with risk for both diseases. It is the largest genetic study of Alzheimer’s disease, according to the news release.

“These findings represent an opportunity to consider repurposing drugs that target pathways involved in lipid metabolism,” the medical term for the storage of fats or their breakdown for energy, said Celeste M. Karch, a senior co-author and an assistant professor of psychiatry at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. “Armed with these findings, we can begin to think about whether some of those drugs might be useful in preventing or delaying Alzheimer’s disease. . . . We really need to think about these risks more holistically.”

The findings are important for Kentucky. Nearly 7 percent of the state’s adults have some form of heart disease, and around 70,000 Kentuckians 65 and older have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Heart disease is the second leading cause of death in Kentucky, and Alzheimer’s is sixth.

Researchers from Washington University and the University of California, San Francisco focused on specific risk factors for heart disease, such as obesity, Type 2 diabetes and high cholesterol, to see if any of those well-recognized risk factors for heart disease also were genetically related to risk for Alzheimer’s.

Genes that influenced the metabolism of fats “were the ones that also were related to Alzheimer’s disease risk,” Karch said. “Genes that contribute to other cardiovascular risk factors, like body mass index and Type 2 diabetes, did not seem to contribute to genetic risk for Alzheimer’s.”

Dr. Rahul S. Desikan, co-senior author and an assistant professor of neuroradiology at UC San Francisco, added that while more research is needed, “The new findings suggest that if the right genes and proteins could be targeted, it may be possible to lower the risk for Alzheimer’s disease in some people by managing their cholesterol and triglycerides,” says the release.

From Kentucky Health News

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