Using a large meta-analysis study of the literature related to Alzheimer's disease, scientists identified four medical treatments and four dietary habits that may contribute to a lower risk of Alzheimer's disease. The research, led by Jin-Tai Yu, M.D., Ph.D. of the Department of Neurology of University of California San Francisco, was reported in the Aug. 20 issue of Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry.

The scientists found medical treatment with estrogen, statins, anti-hypertensive medications or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs were protective factors related to Alzheimer's disease. The diet exposure to folate, vitamin E, vitamin C or coffee were also protective factors. Of factors contributing to risk, hyperhomocysteinemia and depression were significant.

The study identified that preexisting disease influenced Alzheimer's disease risk. A history of arthritis, heart disease, metabolic syndrome and cancer were related to a decreased risk. Preexisting disease factors increasing risk were frailty, carotid atherosclerosis, hypertension, low diastolic blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes mellitus.

Social factors decreasing the risk included cognitive activity, current smoking among western population, light to moderate drinking and high body mass index late in life. The meta-analysis did not find that occupational exposures influenced the risk for Alzheimer's disease.

The study of risk had looked at 19,906 publications and identified 93 factors influencing the risk of Alzheimer's disease that could be analyzed. Clearly, Alzheimer's disease is complex with genetic, physical and social influences. What the study demonstrated is that many factors influencing the expression of Alzheimer's disease and its symptoms can be modified.

The Alzheimer's Association recommends a healthy balanced diet with vegetables, fruit and whole grains, limiting foods with saturated fat and cholesterol, limiting refined sugars and foods high in sodium. Prevention or treatment of diseases such Type 2 diabetes mellitus can be achieved by a healthy lifestyle, including exercise and quality diet, and preventing diabetes reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

Other medical interventions can be complex and require individual consideration. The use of estrogen is an example. There is concern that it may actually increase the risk of dementia in those over the age of 65. The Alzheimer's Association encourages more study into the impact of estrogen treatments on cognitive function.

An estimated 5.3 million Americans have Alzheimer's disease in 2015, and by 2025 the number impacted will be 7.1 million. Worldwide there are estimated to be 44.4 million with dementia related to Alzheimer's, and this is expected to reach 75.6 million by 2030.

Prevention of the disease is critical. The UCSF report certainly provides hope that we can limit the rates of Alzheimer's disease. With so many risk factors that can be modified, there is optimism that we can slow down some of the devastation due to Alzheimer's disease.