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Countries with more wealth, better hygiene have higher Alzheimer’s risk

People living in wealthier countries with better access to clean water and good hygiene may have a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, Medical News Today reported.

In a study published in the journal Evolution, Medicine and Public Health, researchers analyzed data from the World Health Organization's (WHO) Global Burden of Disease (GBD) report in 2009.

They noted that countries with better access to clean drinking water, lower rates of infectious disease and a greater percentage of the population residing in urban areas all had higher rates of Alzheimer’s disease, according to Medical News Today.   

Researchers explained their findings using the ‘hygiene hypothesis,’ which suggests that people who live in places with access to better hygiene have less exposure to certain germs. With no harmful bacteria to fight, people’s immune system’s develop insufficiently, putting them at a higher risk for autoimmune diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s.

“The 'hygiene hypothesis,' which suggests a relationship between cleaner environments and a higher risk of certain allergies and autoimmune diseases, is well-established,” lead study author Dr. Molly Fox, from the University of Cambridge, said. “We believe we can now add Alzheimer's to this list of diseases."

Currently, more than 50 percent of people with Alzheimer's live in the developing world, and by 2025, this figure is expected to rise to more than 70 percent, according to Fox.

“An awareness of this by-product of increasing wealth and development could encourage the innovation of new strategies to protect vulnerable populations from Alzheimer's," Fox said.

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