By Rachael Rettner, Senior Writer
Published: 07/10/2013 04:13 PM EDT on LiveScience
Alzheimer's disease and cancer are both diseases of aging, but interestingly, having one of these conditions lowers the risk of developing the other, a new study from Italy suggests.
In the study, people with Alzheimer's disease were 43 percent less likely to develop cancer, and people with cancer were 35 percent less likely to develop Alzheimer's disease, compared with the general population.
The findings agree with those of earlier studies, which also showed a lower risk of cancer for people with Alzheimer's disease, and vice versa. The new study is the largest to explore the relationship between these two diseases, study researcher Dr. Massimo Musicco, of the National Research Council of Italy in Milan, said in a statement.
The study found an association, and cannot prove that the either disease is responsible for causing a reduced risk of developing the other.
However, it's possible that these two diseases result from opposite biological mechanisms, which in turn, lowers the risk of the second disease in a person who already has the first, the researchers said. The researchers noted that Alzheimer's disease results from the death of brain cells, while cancer results from uncontrolled cellular growth, and resistance to cell death.
If future studies confirm the findings, "This knowledge may help in gaining a better understanding of and developing new treatments for both diseases," Catherine Roe, of Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, and Dr. Maria Behrens, of the Hospital Clínico Universidad de Chile, wrote in an editorial accompanying the study.
The study analyzed information from more than 204,000 people ages 60 and older in Italy, who were followed for six years.
During the study, 21,451 people in the study were diagnosed with cancer and 2,832 were diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease.
Those numbers include the 161 people who were diagnosed with both diseases. But the researchers expected that 246 people with cancer would have developed Alzheimer's disease, and 281 people with Alzheimer's disease would have developed cancer, based on the prevalence of both diseases among people of the same age and gender as the study participants.
So in both cases, the risk of the second disease was reduced.
The researchers found the same result among people who died during the study and those who lived, meaning that early death among people who acquired one disease and died could not explain the phenomenon. [Top 10 Leading Causes of Death]
What's more, people who eventually developed Alzheimer's disease had a lower risk of cancer both before and after their Alzheimer's diagnosis, and people with cancer had a lower risk of Alzheimer's disease both before and after their cancer diagnosis. This means that the diagnosis of the first disease did not appear to interfere with the diagnosis of the second disease, the researchers said.
The study did not take into account lifestyle factors, such as smoking, physical activity and diet, which may influence the risk of these diseases.
The study and editorial are published today (July 10) in the journal Neurology.
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Daily Chores And Exercise
A recent study in the <a href="http://www.neurology.org/content/early/2012/04/18/WNL.0b013e3182535f0e.extract" target="_hplink">journal <em>Neurology</em></a> showed that simple activities like <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/20/chores-alzheimers-exercise-_n_1440969.html" target="_hplink">cooking, cleaning and washing the dishes</a> -- as well as good, old-fashioned exercise -- is associated with a decreased Alzheimer's disease risk, even among people who are age 80 and older. <br> <br> Researchers found that the people who were the least active each day -- in the bottom 10th percentile in the study -- were two times more likely to go on to develop Alzheimer's disease, compared with people who were in the top 10th percentile for daily activity. <br> <br> The results were even more marked when evaluating the intensity of physical activity: Those who were in the bottom 10th percentile for physical activity intensity were three times more likely to develop Alzheimer's, compared with those in the top 10th percentile.
Speak Two Languages
Being bilingual could strengthen your brainpower and protect against dementia, according to a recent study published in the <a href="http://www.cell.com/trends/cognitive-sciences/" target="_hplink">journal <em>Trends in Cognitive Sciences</em></a>. <br> <br> HuffPost Canada Living <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/04/02/benefits-of-being-bilingual_n_1396671.html" target="_hplink">explains why</a>: <br> <br> <blockquote>The anticipation of having to speak one of two language at any given time forces the brain to run continually, and results in an experience that helps avoid a mental conflict between languages.</blockquote> <br> <br> "It is rather like a reserve tank in a car. When you run out of fuel, you can keep going for longer because there is a bit more in the safety tank," study researcher Dr. Ellen Bialystok <a href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2011/feb/18/bilingual-alzheimers-brain-power-multitasking" target="_hplink">told <em>The Guardian</em></a>.
Research in flies suggests that the main compound in turmeric, called curcumin, could have powers against Alzheimer's. <br> <br> <em>The Telegraph</em> reported on a study in the journal <em>PLoS ONE</em>, which suggested that <a href="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/9084973/Having-a-curry-could-help-ward-off-dementia.html" target="_hplink">curcumin may work</a> by reducing the amount of oligomers, which are the "precursor" forms of amyloid plaques in the brain. <br> <br> A previous study in the journal <em>Annals of Indian Academy of Neurology</em> discussed the possible <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2781139/" target="_hplink">effects of curcumin on Alzheimer's</a>. Researchers wrote: <br> <br> <blockquote>Due to various effects of curcumin, such as decreased Beta-amyloid plaques, delayed degradation of neurons, metal-chelation, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and decreased microglia formation, the overall memory in patients with AD has improved.</blockquote>
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2011/12/01/puzzles-and-exercise-help-beat-dementia-symptoms_n_1122502.html" target="_hplink">Doing some puzzles</a> and playing games every day could ward off mental decline, according to a recent study in the journal <em>BMC Medicine</em>. <br> <br> Researchers from the University of Erlangen conducted a study in dementia patients in nursing homes, and had the study participants do exercises like bowling and solving puzzles together, the Press Association reported. They also spent some time doing things like woodwork and gardening. <br> <br> The researchers found that all of these activities seemed to have the same effect on the study participants' <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2011/12/01/puzzles-and-exercise-help-beat-dementia-symptoms_n_1122502.html" target="_hplink">brain functioning</a>, compared with the typical dementia medication, the Press Association reported. <br> <br> Another recent study in the journal <em>Archives of Neurology</em> showed that life-long reading and game-playing could <a href="http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=153901" target="_hplink">decrease beta amyloid levels</a> in the brain, which are considered a "hallmark of the condition," MedicineNet reported. <br> <br> "Staying cognitively active over the lifetime may reduce the risk of Alzheimer's by preventing the accumulation of Alzheimer's-related pathology," study researcher Susan Landau, a research scientist at the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute at the University of California, Berkeley, <a href="http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=153901" target="_hplink">told MedicineNet</a>.
Elderly people who <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-11537068" target="_hplink">walk six to nine miles a week</a> could decrease their risk of dementia and brain functioning problems, BBC News reported. <br> <br> The 2009 study in <em>Neurology</em> included 299 people whose average age was 78. Researchers found that people who walked the most in the study -- six to nine miles a week -- had a halved risk of developing the brain problems as people who walked the least in the study, according to BBC News. <br> <br> Similarly, a 2007 study that also appeared in the journal <em>Neurology</em> showed that people age 65 and older who regularly exercise have a <a href="http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2007-12/aaon-wam121107.php" target="_hplink">decreased risk of vascular dementia</a>. That study included 749 people.
Eat Your Fish And Nuts
Researchers from Columbia University Medical Center found that eating a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/06/omega-3-fatty-acids-alzheimers-memory-brain_n_1475806.html" target="_hplink">diet high in omega-3 fatty acids</a> -- such as fish, nuts and chicken -- is linked with lower levels of of beta-amyloid protein, which is linked with Alzheimer's disease. <br> <br> The study, published in the journal Neurology, included 1,219 people age 65 and older who didn't have dementia. The researchers found that the higher their consumption of the omega-3 fatty acids, the lower the beta-amyloid in the blood.
Drink Green Tea
That refreshing green brew could have powers against Alzheimer's disease, according to research from Newcastle University. <br> <br> WebMD reported that when <a href="http://www.webmd.com/alzheimers/news/20110106/green-tea-may-help-prevent-alzheimers-disease" target="_hplink">green tea is digested</a>, the released compounds have protective effects against Alzheimer's. <br> <br> "When green tea is digested by enzymes in the gut, the resulting chemicals are actually more effective against key triggers of Alzheimer's development than the undigested form of the tea," study researcher Ed Okello <a href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2011/jan/06/green-tea-alzheimers-cancer" target="_hplink">told <em>The Guardian</em></a>.
Find out if there are any quick and easy brain training exercises you can do in order to prevent dementia.