Risk factors for faster aging in the brain revealed in new study

brain aging

Researchers from the Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences at the University of Oxford have delved into data from UK Biobank participants, revealing that among 15 modifiable risk factors for dementia, diabetes, traffic-related air pollution and alcohol intake pose the greatest harm.

Previously, these researchers pinpointed a vulnerable area in the brain – a network of higher-order regions susceptible to degeneration in old age and linked to schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s disease. In their latest study, published in Nature Communications, they scrutinized the genetic and modifiable influences on these fragile brain regions by analyzing brain scans of over 40,000 UK Biobank participants aged over 45.

Examining 161 risk factors for dementia, the researchers ranked their impact on this vulnerable brain network, independent of age. They categorized these modifiable risk factors into 15 broad groups, including blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, weight, alcohol consumption, smoking, depressive mood, inflammation, pollution, hearing, sleep, socialization, diet, physical activity and education.

Lead researcher Prof. Gwenaëlle Douaud explains, “We’ve discovered that specific parts of the brain, known to degenerate earlier in aging, are particularly vulnerable to diabetes, traffic-related air pollution and alcohol among common risk factors for dementia.”

Moreover, the study unveiled genetic variations influencing this brain network, associated with cardiovascular deaths, schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s diseases, and even the XG antigen system, a lesser-known blood group.

Co-author Prof. Lloyd Elliott from Simon Fraser University notes, “Two of our genetic findings are located within a region containing the XG blood group genes, a region shared by X and Y sex chromosomes, offering intriguing insights into genomic exploration.”

Significantly, co-author Prof. Anderson Winkler from the National Institutes of Health and The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley emphasizes, “What sets this study apart is its holistic assessment of each modifiable risk factor’s unique contribution to the degeneration of this specific brain ‘weak spot,’ revealing diabetes, air pollution and alcohol as the most detrimental factors.”

This research illuminates critical risk factors for dementia and offers valuable insights for prevention and targeted intervention strategies in the future.

Source: Science Daily