By Sean Zucker –
Dementia is equally as debilitating as it is widespread. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that more than 55 million people worldwide struggle with the disease, and roughly 10 million new cases arise each year. The seventh leading cause of death, WHO adds that dementia is one of the major triggers of disability and dependency among older people worldwide.
Despite rising public awareness of its impact, no clear cause of dementia has been identified. New research, however, now points to one major possible factor. A recent study from the United Kingdom warns that chronic inflammation can raise an individual’s risk of the condition.
Researchers at the University of Manchester specially examined the connection between inflammation, cognition and dementia. The team analyzed data from the UK Biobank, a large-scale population study involving over 500,000 people. All participants were recruited between 2006 and 2010 and were between the ages of 40 and 69 years old. They consented to have their health continually monitored and cataloged for years following the agreement.
The researchers’ efforts involved isolating this data into three categories: cognitive performance, dementia identification and inflammatory biomarker score. The biomarker score was primarily based on white blood cell count because a high count generally indicates infection or inflammation. Ultimately, the scientists discovered that those with higher inflammatory biomarker scores were 35 percent more likely to be diagnosed with dementia later in life than those with lower scores.
The study also helped identify elderly people who were at the highest risk, according to the study’s lead author, Dr. Krisztina Mekli.
“Elevated levels of blood inflammatory markers are often found in elderly individuals, and this condition is termed ‘inflammageing.’ Inflammageing carries a high susceptibility to chronic diseases and premature death. We found associations between elevated systemic inflammation biomarker levels, concurrent and later cognitive performance and future dementia risk,” she told Healthline.
Inflammation already plays a key role in a slew of serious conditions, according to the National Institute of Health Sciences (NIH). These include autoimmune, cardiovascular, lung, gastrointestinal, metabolic and neurodegenerative diseases. It can also contribute to mental illnesses and certain types of cancer.
NIH stresses that inflammation is also a normal part of the body’s defense systems and can be beneficial. It happens most notably following an injury or infection. However, diseases can occur when inflammation is found in healthy tissues or last too long.
NIH advises regular exercise and physical activity to reduce the risk because as muscles contract, they release proteins that can reduce inflammation throughout the body. Diet can also play a role. The institute recommends cutting down on refined grains, alcohol and processed foods. These items can alter gut microbiota, creating intestinal and immune changes that lead to inflammation, the organization reports.
Harvard Health even offers a grocery list of what foods can help reduce problems. The outlet notes that fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, lentils, fish, poultry, nuts, seeds, low-fat dairy and olive oil can all help combat inflammation. Herbs and spices like cinnamon, ginger or turmeric may also be helpful tools. Harvard Health endorses the Mediterranean Diet as one risk-reducing solution as it includes most of these components. In short, aim for any food whole and unprocessed with no added sugar or preservatives.