Researchers have found new links between Alzheimer's and heart disease. 

By Samantha Lauriello
Updated November 12, 2018

After studying the DNA of more than 1.5 million people, researchers have discovered a genetic connection between the risk of heart disease and Alzheimer’s.

It's long been thought that the two conditions are linked. People diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease may also have signs of heart disease, which has led researchers to wonder if treating cardiovascular symptoms might also prevent memory problems.

In the new study, published in the journal Acta Neuropathologica, an international team of researchers found new DNA points that seem to be involved in both cardiovascular disease and Alzheimer’s risk. The researchers analyzed differences in the DNA of patients with genetic factors that contribute to either condition and pinpointed 90 spots across the genome that seem to play a role in risk for both–six of which seemed particularly significant.

RELATED: 8 Weird Things Linked to Memory Loss Later in Life

Then they dove deeper to confirm their findings by examining healthy adults. They found the same genetic risk factors in people with a family history of Alzheimer's who hadn't developed the condition themselves.

“These results imply that irrespective of what causes what, cardiovascular and Alzheimer’s pathology co-occur because they are linked genetically. That is, if you carry this handful of gene variants you may be at risk for not only heart disease but also Alzheimer’s,” study co-author Rahul S. Desikan, MD, PhD, an assistant professor of neuroradiology at the University of California San Francisco, said in a statement.

More research is needed for scientists to completely understand how to target the right genes to lower Alzheimer’s risk, but a first step may be managing cholesterol and triglycerides, they say.

RELATED: 17 Weird Things That May Affect Your Heart Disease Risk

And that's good timing, considering the American Heart Association (AHA) and the American College of Cardiology (ACC) just released new guidelines for managing cholesterol.

The guidelines recommend doctors take a more personalized approach in risk assessment, speaking with patients about factors like family history and ethnicity in addition to more traditional risk factors like smoking and high blood pressure. By getting a more holistic look at a patient’s situation, doctors can better determine what treatment is needed.

The first line of defense when it comes to managing cholesterol remains eating a healthy diet and getting adequate exercise, but when that isn’t enough, cholesterol treatment is typically with medications called statins. For very high risk patients who have already had a heart attack or stroke, other drugs can be added to a statin regime.

RELATED: Here Are the Warning Signs for Early-Onset Alzheimer’s

"High cholesterol treatment is not one-size-fits-all, and this guideline strongly establishes the importance of personalized care," Michael Valentine, MD, president of the ACC, said in a press release.

Though the study on heart disease and Alzheimer’s was published separately from the new cholesterol guidelines, the treatment recommendations may give insight into how your doctor can help you lower your risk for both conditions. More research is needed to confirm the idea that managing your cholesterol can reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s, but it’s absolutely never a bad idea to keep your heart as healthy as possible.

To get our top stories delivered to your inbox, sign up for the Healthy Living newsletter