British researchers are to begin a study to find out if stress can trigger dementia.
The investigation, funded by the Alzheimer’s Society, will monitor 140 people with mild cognitive impairment or “pre-dementia” and look at how stress affects their condition.
The researchers will take blood and saliva samples at six-monthly intervals over the 18 months of the study to measure biological markers of stress.
They hope their work will reveal ways to prevent dementia.
The results could offer clues to new treatments or better ways of managing the condition, they say.
British researchers are to begin a study to find out if stress can trigger dementia
People who have mild cognitive impairment are at an increased risk of going on to develop dementia – although some will remain stable and others may improve.
And past work suggests mid-life stress may increase a person’s risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
A Swedish study that followed nearly 1,500 women for a period of 35 years found the risk of dementia was about 65% higher in women who reported repeated periods of stress in middle age than in those who did not.
Scottish scientists, who have done studies in animals, believe the link may be down to hormones the body releases in response to stress which interfere with brain function.
Prof. Clive Holmes, from the University of Southampton, who will lead the study, said: “All of us go through stressful events. We are looking to understand how these may become a risk factor for the development of Alzheimer’s.
“Something such as bereavement or a traumatic experience – possibly even moving home – are also potential factors.
“This is the first stage in developing ways in which to intervene with psychological or drug-based treatments to fight the disease.
“We are looking at two aspects of stress relief – physical and psychological – and the body’s response to that experience.”
Dr. Simon Ridley, of Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “We welcome any research that could shed new light on Alzheimer’s disease and other causes of dementia.
“Understanding the risk factors for Alzheimer’s could provide one piece of the puzzle we need to take us closer to a treatment that could stop the disease in its tracks.”
Researchers at Newcastle University, UK, say the risk of birth defects quadruples if the pregnant mother has diabetes.
The study, published in the journal Diabetologia, analyzed data from more than 400,000 pregnancies in the north-east of England.
The risk of defects such as congenital heart disease and spina bifida were increased.
UK National Guidelines already recommend having good control over blood sugar levels before trying to conceive.
Both Type 1 diabetes, which tends to appear in childhood, and Type 2 diabetes, largely as a result of diet, lead to problems controlling the amount of sugar in the blood.
Researchers at Newcastle University, UK, say the risk of birth defects quadruples if the pregnant mother has diabetes
Diabetes is known to cause problems in pregnancy, such as birth defects, miscarriage and the baby being overweight due to too much sugar.
There is concern that rising levels of diabetes, particularly Type 2, could make the issue worse.
Researchers analyzed data from 401,149 pregnancies between 1996 and 2008 – 1,677 women had diabetes.
The risk of birth defects went from 19 in every 1,000 births for women without pre-existing diabetes to 72 in every 1,000 births for women with diabetes.
The report suggests that sugar levels in the run-up to conception were the “most important” risk factor which could be controlled.
The lead researcher, Dr. Ruth Bell from Newcastle University said: “Many of these anomalies happen in the first four to six weeks.”
Dr. Ruth Bell said the number of pregnancies with poor sugar control were “more than we would like”.
“It is a problem when the pregnancy is not intended or when people are not aware they need to talk to their doctors before pregnancy,” she said.
Guidelines from the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence say women should reduce their blood sugar levels to below 6.1% before trying to have a baby.
Sugar levels at conception Risk of birth defect
6.1% One in 34
7% One in 26
8% One in 17
9% One in 12
10% One in nine
Dr. Ruth Bell said: “The good news is that, with expert help before and during pregnancy, most women with diabetes will have a healthy baby.
“The risk of problems can be reduced by taking extra care to have the best possible glucose control before becoming pregnant.”
The study was funded by charity Diabetes UK. Its director of research, Dr. Iain Frame, said: “We need to get the message out to women with diabetes that if they are considering becoming pregnant, then they should tell their diabetes healthcare team, who will make sure they are aware of planning and what next steps they should be taking.
“It also highlights the importance of using contraception if you are a woman with diabetes who is sexually active but not planning to become pregnant.”