Doing This Yearly Cuts Your Alzheimer's Risk 40 Percent, New Study Says


When it comes to staying on top of their overall health, most people tend to focus on daily activities, such as diet and exercise, for the sake of their brains as well as their hearts. And even though needs and abilities can change as we age, certain habits still have positive effects on our cognitive wellbeing, whether it's maintaining good hygiene or getting enough sleep at night. But now, new research has also shown that some less frequent activities can still have a major effect on your brain health—including one yearly task that could reduce your risk of Alzheimer's disease by 40 percent. Read on to see which annual tradition could help you avoid cognitive decline.

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Some semi-regular habits have been shown to reduce the risk of cognitive decline.

Alzheimer's disease presents a serious concern for many as they age. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it's the most common form of dementia, with an estimated 5.8 million people in the U.S. living with the condition—a number that is expected to rise to 14 million by 2060. But thanks to an increase in dedicated research, the medical community is beginning to understand Alzheimer's better, including certain habits that could decrease the chances of a person developing it.

For example, one 2019 study published in the journal Nutrients analyzed the diets of 925 dementia-free individuals from 2004 to 2018 to record how often each person ate certain vegetables, fruits, and seafood. Results showed that participants who consumed at least one serving of strawberries per week had a 34 percent lower risk of developing Alzheimer's compared to those who ate the fruit once a month or not at all.

In another study published in The Journal of Neuroscience in August 2015, researchers examined how different sleeping positions might affect the brain's glymphatic pathway, which is a specific system that works to clean out the harmful waste chemicals from the brain. Through the use of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to produce brain scans, the researchers found that sleeping in a lateral position on one's side allowed the system to work most efficiently. But now, new research has found a surprising connection between one yearly activity and Alzheimer's risk in patients.

A new study found one yearly activity can reduce Alzheimer's risk by 40 percent.

In a new study that was released online before its August publication in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, researchers from the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston analyzed health data from 935,887 patients who had received at least one flu vaccine and 935,887 who had not. After a four-year follow-up period, results showed that while 8.5 percent of non-vaccinated participants were diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, only 5.1 percent of vaccinated participants developed the condition, showing a drop in risk of 40 percent.

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Results also showed that keeping up with the habit each year provided even more protective benefits.

But while the results showed that there was a correlation between receiving even one flu jab and decreased Alzheimer's odds, they also suggested that sticking to the shot's yearly schedule could provide even more benefits.

"We found that flu vaccination in older adults reduces the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease for several years. The strength of this protective effect increased with the number of years that a person received an annual flu vaccine—in other words, the rate of developing Alzheimer's was lowest among those who consistently received the flu vaccine every year," Avram S. Bukhbinder, MD, the study's first author, said in a statement.

"Future research should assess whether flu vaccination is also associated with the rate of symptom progression in patients who already have Alzheimer's dementia," he suggested.

It may not just be flu shots that offer some protection against Alzheimer's disease.

In their conclusion, the researchers cited previous studies which had found a connection between receiving vaccines for other ailments such as tetanus, herpes, polio, and others with a decreased risk of developing dementia. Bukhbinder said he hoped to use mounting follow-up data from COVID-19 vaccines to see if the same association exists with that shot.

"Since there is evidence that several vaccines may protect from Alzheimer's disease, we are thinking that it isn't a specific effect of the flu vaccine," Paul. E. Schulz, MD, the study's senior author, said in a press release.

"Instead, we believe that the immune system is complex, and some alterations, such as pneumonia, may activate it in a way that makes Alzheimer's disease worse. But other things that activate the immune system may do so in a different way—one that protects from Alzheimer's disease. Clearly, we have more to learn about how the immune system worsens or improves outcomes in this disease."

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