Lifestyle and vascular risk effects on MRI-based biomarkers of Alzheimer's disease: a cross-sectional study of middle-aged adults from the broader New York City area.

BMJ open. 2018;8(3):e019362

Other resources

Plain language summary

Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is the most common form of dementia, affecting nearly 34 million people worldwide. It has been estimated that one in every three cases of AD may be attributable to diet and lifestyle factors. The aim of this study was to investigate the effects of lifestyle and vascular-related risk factors for AD. Researchers studied the brain scans of 116 healthy adults aged 30-60 years. They collected information on factors related to lifestyle, such as diet, physical activity and intellectual enrichment. They also looked at markers for vascular risk such as body mass index (BMI), cholesterol and homocysteine, as well as cognitive function. The researchers found that a Mediterranean-style diet and good insulin sensitivity were both associated with a healthier brain structure. A better score for intellectual enrichment and lower BMI were both associated with better cognition. They concluded that adopting a Mediterranean-style diet and maintaining a healthy weight might reduce the risk of developing AD.


OBJECTIVE To investigate the effects of lifestyle and vascular-related risk factors for Alzheimer's disease (AD) on in vivo MRI-based brain atrophy in asymptomatic young to middle-aged adults. DESIGN Cross-sectional, observational. SETTING Broader New York City area. Two research centres affiliated with the Alzheimer's disease Core Center at New York University School of Medicine. PARTICIPANTS We studied 116 cognitively normal healthy research participants aged 30-60 years, who completed a three-dimensional T1-weighted volumetric MRI and had lifestyle (diet, physical activity and intellectual enrichment), vascular risk (overweight, hypertension, insulin resistance, elevated cholesterol and homocysteine) and cognition (memory, executive function, language) data. Estimates of cortical thickness for entorhinal (EC), posterior cingulate, orbitofrontal, inferior and middle temporal cortex were obtained by use of automated segmentation tools. We applied confirmatory factor analysis and structural equation modelling to evaluate the associations between lifestyle, vascular risk, brain and cognition. RESULTS Adherence to a Mediterranean-style diet (MeDi) and insulin sensitivity were both positively associated with MRI-based cortical thickness (diet: β ≥0.26, insulin sensitivity β ≥0.58, P≤0.008). After accounting for vascular risk, EC in turn explained variance in memory (P≤0.001). None of the other lifestyle and vascular risk variables were associated with brain thickness. In addition, the path associations between intellectual enrichment and better cognition were significant (β ≥0.25 P≤0.001), as were those between overweight and lower cognition (β ≥-0.22, P≤0.01). CONCLUSIONS In cognitively normal middle-aged adults, MeDi and insulin sensitivity explained cortical thickness in key brain regions for AD, and EC thickness predicted memory performance in turn. Intellectual activity and overweight were associated with cognitive performance through different pathways. Our findings support further investigation of lifestyle and vascular risk factor modification against brain ageing and AD. More studies with larger samples are needed to replicate these research findings in more diverse, community-based settings.

Functional medicine

Fundamental Clinical Imbalances : Hormonal ; Neurological
Patient Centred Factors : Antecedents/Mediterranean diet
Environmental Inputs : Diet ; Physical exercise
Personal Lifestyle Factors : Nutrition ; Psychological
Functional Laboratory Testing : Blood ; Imaging
Bioactive Substances : Insulin ; Homocysteine ; Cholesterol

Methodological quality

Allocation concealment : Not applicable