Can your blood type cause dementia?
Over the years, blood type has been said to affect everything from how we lose weight to our risk of suffering heart disease and stroke.
According to a recent data analysis from the University of Vermont, there’s another item to add to the list: People with one of the four common blood types have an 82% higher risk for cognitive impairment, memory loss, and dementia.
First, what does “blood type” really mean?
You’re probably familiar with the most common blood types: A, B, AB, and O. (And sometimes, “positive” or “negative.”) The different blood types simply refer to the shape of the red blood cell. Each blood type has its own combination of antibodies and antigens, which determine who can donate blood to whom.
If mixed with another person’s blood of a different type, these antibodies will attack each other, essentially causing an allergic reaction, leading to kidney failure, shock, and possibly death. That’s why your blood is carefully typed and labeled when you donate.
The characteristics of the red blood cells also determine how your blood interacts with the rest of your body … in ways that may increase (or decrease) risk for certain chronic diseases.
The REGARDS study (Reasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke) followed more than 30,000 people for almost four years. The University of Vermont’s Dr. Mary Cushman analyzed part of the data and found that people with type AB blood were 82% more likely to develop the symptoms of cognitive impairment that can lead to dementia.1
According to Dr. Cushman, one explanation could be that type AB blood has too much “factor VIII,” a blood-clotting protein produced in the liver. Highly clotting blood can cause vascular problems, leading to decreased blood flow to the brain and subsequent cognitive problems.
Dr. Cushman also noted that AB types shouldn’t worry too much. “The overall risk for developing these problems was still pretty low.”2
The bigger picture: knowing your
blood type may help you live longer
While Dr. Cushman stresses more research still needs to be done, there is a bigger point to be made: understanding more about your genetics — including your blood type — can help you live a longer, healthier, mentally sharper life.
For example, AB blood types have also been found to have 23% higher risk for cardiovascular disease than other types, while people with type O blood are generally at less risk for heart disease and stroke than the other three types.3
Dr. Lu Qi, an assistant professor at Harvard School of Public Health, agrees, “Knowing your blood type can be an important part of staying health and avoiding heart disease. It’s good to know your blood type the same way you should know your cholesterol or blood pressure numbers. If you know you’re at higher risk, you can reduce the risk by adopting a healthier lifestyle, such as eating right, exercising and not smoking.”3
When you have this knowledge working in your favor, it’s just one more step toward staying healthy and living a long, full life. I don’t recommend getting carried with genetic determinism. Most of the factors that matter are under our control, they don’t date from our conception.
But everything makes a difference at the margin and I believe in giving myself every edge I can.
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