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This Condition May Triple Your Dementia Risk, Says New Study

But you can do something about it, starting now.

Dementia is a progressive brain disorder that, at present, has no cure. Scientists are actively trying to better understand what causes the disease so that it can be prevented, or the risk of developing it reduced, if possible. The biggest risk factors are age (most cases of dementia occur in people over 60) and family history. But researchers are discovering more about what increases risk, and Korean scientists recently published their findings about a condition that may triple your chances of developing dementia. Read on to find out more—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You Have "Long" COVID and May Not Even Know It.


What is Dementia?

older woman with gray hair and head against window

Dementia is the umbrella term for several disorders of the brain, including Alzheimer's disease. These involve changes to memory, thinking, and personality that interfere with a person's ability to function. Alzheimer's is the most common form of dementia, affecting about 5.8 million Americans.

Dementia is becoming more common, simply because more of us are living longer. According to the World Health Organization, dementia cases are expected to triple by the year 2050.


Researchers Report on Major Risk Factor

Overweight woman discussing test results with doctor in hospital.

In a study published in the April edition of Endocrinology and Metabolism, Korean researchers reported that people with the most severe form of metabolic syndrome had nearly triple the risk of developing dementia than people who didn't show signs of the condition.


What Is Metabolic Syndrome?

Doctor measuring obese man waist body fat.

Symptoms of metabolic syndrome include high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high blood triglycerides, low HDL ("good") cholesterol, and large waist circumference. A person is diagnosed with metabolic syndrome when they meet more than three of those criteria.

Previous studies have linked metabolic syndrome with an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, and brain disorders.


What The Researchers Found

Doctor examines MRI scan of head, neck and brain of patient

Using data from South Korea's National Health Insurance Service, the scientists looked at almost 1.5 million people over age 45 who had gotten checkups for four consecutive years. They discovered that people who met the criteria for metabolic syndrome had a 1.35 times higher risk of dementia of all causes than the group without metabolic syndrome.

But people who had more severe and prolonged metabolic syndrome had an even higher risk. The researchers assigned each of the five conditions associated with metabolic syndrome a score of 1. If a person was diagnosed with none of the five risk factors for four consecutive years, they were given a score of zero. If a person was diagnosed with all five conditions for four straight years, they were given a score of 20.

The scientists found that people with a score of 20 had 2.6 times the chance of developing any form of dementia than people with a zero score. Their risk of Alzheimer's was 2.33 times higher and vascular dementia 2.3 times higher.

RELATED: Sure Signs You May Have Dementia, According to the CDC


How Can You Prevent Metabolic Syndrome?

fitness, sport, people and lifestyle concept

"It is important for a person with elements that compose metabolic syndrome to strive to prevent dementia by reducing exposure to metabolic syndrome by, for instance, through regular exercise and dietary changes," said study author Lee Seung-Hwan of the Department of Internal Medicine at Seoul St. Mary's Hospital.

According to the American Heart Association, this is what you can do today to prevent or treat metabolic syndrome:

  • Eat a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fish, skinless poultry, nuts, low-fat or fat-free dairy products, lean meats, and vegetable protein. Limit your intake of processed foods, saturated and trans fats, red meat, sodium, and added sugar.
  • Get regular exercise—at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity a week. That can include walking, gardening, tennis, or biking at low speed.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. Lose weight if you need to, and keep it off with a good diet and regular physical activity.

And to get through life at your healthiest, don't miss The #1 Cause of Diabetes, According to Doctors.

Michael Martin
Michael Martin is a New York City-based writer and editor whose health and lifestyle content has also been published on Beachbody and Openfit. A contributing writer for Eat This, Not That!, he has also been published in New York, Architectural Digest, Interview, and many others. Read more about Michael