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New Study Has Found One Critical Factor For Developing Dementia

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A new study published in the medical journal Neurology today found that people with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, in which fat cells build up in the liver, may have a higher risk of dementia.

Researchers also found that the risk of dementia may be even higher for people with this type of liver disease who also have heart disease or have had a stroke.

The majority of chronic liver diseases are caused by non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, which affects up to 25% of people globally. Since it usually has no symptoms, many people are unaware they have it.

Fatigue and pain or discomfort in the upper right abdomen are some of the symptoms people may experience. While excessive alcohol use can result in fatty liver disease, obesity and other linked disorders like high blood pressure or type 2 diabetes can also play a role.

It can cause liver damage or inflammation in a tiny percentage of patients.

Metabolic diseases like high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity are common risk factors for both non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and dementia, according to research author Ying Shang, PhD, of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden. 

“So our study sought to determine if there was a link between this form of liver disease and a person’s risk of dementia, independent of these risk factors.”  

For the study, researchers looked at 30 years of records from Sweden’s national patient registry and found 2,898 people age 65 and older who had been diagnosed with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

Then, the researchers found 28,357 people without the disease who were the same age, and gender, and lived in the same city when they were diagnosed.

Dementia was found in 5% of those with the non-alcoholic fatty liver disease compared to 4.6% of those without liver disease among 1,291 individuals followed for an average of more than five years.

Researchers discovered that those with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease had a 38% greater probability of dementia overall when compared to those without liver disease, even after controlling for cardiovascular risk factors including high blood pressure and diabetes.

When researchers looked at vascular dementia, which is caused by not enough blood getting to the brain, they found that it was 44% more common in people with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease than in people without liver disease. No increased prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease was discovered by researchers.

Dementia risk was 50% higher in people with liver disease who also had heart disease. Dementia risk increased by more than 2.5 times in people with liver disease and stroke.

“Our study shows that non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is associated with the development of dementia, which may be driven mainly by vascular damage in the brain,” adds Shang. “These results highlight the possibility that targeted treatment of this form of liver disease and co-occuring cardiovascular disease may reduce the risk of dementia.”

The study was limited by the fact that non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is frequently misdiagnosed since patients frequently show no symptoms. This, according to Shang, may cause people to underestimate the link between dementia and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

Image Credit: Getty

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