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How To Use Your Biological Age To Stop Dementia

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When doctors talk about how to avoid illness, most of them will point to reducing certain risk factors. Not surprisingly, seniors have the strongest risk factor for virtually every chronic disease - an older age.

But here’s something that’s less well-known, a medical fact which doctors rarely mention: The number of years you’ve been alive is an imprecise measure of your risk for chronic disease because people age at different rates.

The science shows that a better measure, one that reflects how well your body’s organs and tissues are aging, is your biological age. As we’ve reported before, a higher biological age is linked to an increased risk of cancer and other diseases. Now, a brand-new study also links it to a greater risk of dementia.

People can appear older than their chronological age, especially a person weighed down by life’s burdens, they can look much older than others of the exact same age. This physical aging is also reflected in their internal tissues. So, as a measure of chronic disease risk, chronological age really has its shortcomings. For this reason, scientists have turned to biological age as a more precise measure.

Measuring Biological Age

Scientists have devised various methods over the years to measure biological age. One looks at chemical changes in DNA that occur as we age. Another relies on information derived from a wide range of medical and physiological tests.

Using these methods, when biological age rises above chronological age, it often points to accelerated aging at the cellular level and greater susceptibility to age-related disease. In previous research, accelerated biological aging increased the risk of depression and anxiety, hospitalization, cancer, and mortality. Now, scientists at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden wanted to discover if accelerated biological age also increased the risk of neurological diseases. Their results were alarming to say the least…

Boosts Vascular Dementia and Stroke Risk

For their study, the Swedish team analyzed data on 325,870 volunteers between the ages of 40 and 70 from the UK Biobank resource. All were free from any neurological condition when the study began.

The researchers used three measures of biological age based on 18 routinely measured clinical biomarkers. These included blood pressure, blood sugar, blood fats, inflammation, lung capacity and waist circumference, among others.

After a follow-up of nine years, a high biological age when compared to chronological age when the study began, was linked to a significantly increased risk of dementia, especially vascular dementia, and ischemic stroke, (i.e. blood clot in the brain). The increased risk persisted even when researchers considered other risk factors such as genetics, gender, health problems, lifestyle, and socioeconomic factors.

Jonathan Mak, first author of the study, published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry in November, explained, saying, “If a person's biological age is five years higher than their actual age, the person has a 40 percent higher risk of developing vascular dementia or suffering a stroke.”

The risk of Alzheimer’s and ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) also increased, but by a much smaller amount. As for Parkinson’s disease, interestingly, not only did advanced biological age NOT increase the risk, if anything, it was protective. His colleague and senior author Sara Hägg couldn’t explain the findings in Parkinson’s but said the condition “is a bit unique in other contexts as well, for example, when it comes to smoking.”

What she’s referring to is the odd but consistent finding that although smoking typically increases biological aging, the risk of developing Parkinson’s drops by half in people who smoke!

Our Takeaway

The research into Parkinson’s has yet to be explained, but a word of caution: don’t use it as an excuse to take up smoking again or for the first time.

However, there are many things you can do to help improve your biological age and your longevity. As we’ve previously written, biological age is reversible with the right lifestyle interventions including exercise, sleep, stress management, diet and nutritional supplements. It’s never too late to make smart lifestyle choices. Not only will you age better, but you’ll look and feel better, too.

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