Swedish researchers have found that people with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease have an increased risk of dementia. For people with this form of liver disease who also have heart disease or have suffered a stroke, their risk of developing dementia is even higher. The results were published in the journal Neurology today (Wednesday July 13).
What did the researchers do?
The researchers looked at 30 years of Swedish national patient registers. They identified a large cohort of people aged 65 and over who were diagnosed with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease – the buildup of fat cells in the liver.
These people were then matched with people without liver disease but similar in age, sex and city of residence at age of diagnosis.
The researchers also looked at cardiovascular complications in these two groups of people, such as heart disease and stroke.
What did they find?
The study found that 5% of people with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease had been diagnosed with dementia, compared with 4.6% of people without liver disease.
By adjusting for cardiovascular risk factors such as high blood pressure and diabetes, the researchers found that people with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease had a much higher rate of dementia.
Looking at the types of dementias, they found that non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is linked to a higher risk of vascular dementia (caused by reduced blood flow to the brain), but not for Alzheimer’s disease.
People with liver disease who also had heart disease or stroke had a much higher risk of developing dementia.
Dr Rosa Sancho, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:
“This study found that heart disease or stroke can intensify the effect of liver disease on a person’s risk of dementia. This suggests that treatments targeting both nonalcoholic fatty liver disease and cardiovascular disease may help reduce the risk of dementia.
“Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is often underdiagnosed because people don’t always have symptoms, so this study may underestimate the strength of the link to dementia.
“This form of liver disease and dementia shares many common risk factors, such as high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity. Future studies should explore the mechanisms underlying the link between non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and dementia.
“This finding highlights the fact that our brain does not function in isolation from the rest of our body and that improving our physical health can help reduce our risk of dementia and maintain a healthy brain. Current evidence suggests that being physically and mentally active, staying socially connected, not smoking, drinking only in moderation, eating a balanced diet, and controlling cholesterol and blood pressure levels can all help improve brain health. and brain health advice on www.thinkbrainhealth.org.uk”