Africans Less Likely than Americans To Develop Alzheimer's

IBADAN, Nigeria-Living in poverty, with little variety in diet and few healthcare options available is the average life of a Nigerian. Although they may live without many of the comforts of the western world, a new study shows they are also less likely to live with disease--Alzheimer's disease, specifically.

A researcher at Indiana University studied two groups of people with a similar genetic makeup. African Americans, with a typical American diet, and Nigerians, with a typical African diet, were examined beginning in 1993. Each of the 4,500 participants were 65 years old, with normal memory and reasoning skills.

They were each examined in 1992, 1994, and 1997 and asked if they had begun to lose their memories and ability to reason.

The American group had two to three times more dementia and Alzheimer's disease than the Nigerians by the end of the study. The challenge is now to understand why Americans are more prone to the disease, which was once thought to be an entirely genetic disorder.

Vascular disease is the number one suspect. Americans are more likely to have high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, and strokes. Blocked blood vessels in the brain can cause memory loss. The Nigerian group had lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels that were as much as 60 points below those of Americans.

Diet may be to blame. While the average American eats significant amounts of meat, dairy and fried foods, the African diet is based on vegetables and fish. Dairy is not available in most African countries and meat is often too expensive for the average man.

The study shows a new environmental aspect to Alzheimer's that may help researchers and scientists uncover the root of this disabling disease.

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