Up to two-thirds of Alzheimer’s disease cases worldwide may be influenced by 9 potentially modifiable risk factors. While cause and effect can’t be proven yet, these risk factors are associated with a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

They are:

  1. Obesity;
  2. Current smoking (in the Asian population);
  3. Carotid artery narrowing;
  4. Type 2 diabetes (in the Asian population);
  5. Low educational attainment;
  6. High levels of homocysteine (an amino acid linked to narrowing of blood vessels);
  7. Depression;
  8. High blood pressure; and
  9. Frailty.

Protective factors

The researchers also found the following factors have a protective effect against developing Alzheimer’s disease:

  • Being on oestrogen therapy
  • Taking statins (cholesterol-lowering medicines);
  • Taking NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs);
  • Folate – having a high level;
  • High intake of vitamins C and E; and
  • Coffee drinking.

Other factors contributing to a lower risk are:

  1. History of arthritis, heart disease, metabolic syndrome or cancer;
  2. High BMI in later life;
  3. Regularly exercising the brain;
  4. Current smoking (excluding the Asian population); and
  5. Light to moderate drinking and stress.

However, the researchers caution that this is an observational study, so no definitive conclusions can be drawn about cause and effect.

Nonetheless, they suggest preventive strategies targeting diet, drugs, body chemistry, mental health, pre-existing disease and lifestyle may help to stave off Alzheimer’s disease.

Last Reviewed: 24/08/2015



Xu W, et al. Meta-analysis of modifiable risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease. J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry 2015;0:1–8. doi:10.1136/jnnp-2015-310548J