Cynics Beware: Your Attitude Might Triple Your Dementia Risk, Study Says

People with a cynical attitude might be placing their health at risk, according to research published in the May 28, 2014 issue of Neurology®, which is the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

Cynicism linked to brain health

Specifically, this study finds that individuals who are generally distrusting of others and those with a cynical outlook have triple the risk of developing dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease, compared to their less-cynical counterparts. Cynical distrust is the belief that people are generally self-serving and motivated only by selfish desires, and it’s an attitude that’s been associated with other health problems, such as heart disease, in previous research. 

This latest study, supported by the University of Eastern Finland, the European Commission’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7), and the Swedish Society for Medical Research and the Finnish National Graduate School of Clinical Investigation, finds a clear link between cynicism and brain health, based on the results of tests for dementia and questionnaires designed to measure the level of cynicism given to 1,449 participants.

Are you cynical?

The questionnaire, proven to be reliable and producing consistent results in the same individuals over a several-year period, asks participants whether they agree with statements such as:

  • “I think most people would lie to get ahead.”
  • “It is safer to trust nobody.”
  • “Most people will use somewhat unfair reasons to gain profit or an advantage rather than lose it.”

A total of 622 participants completed two tests for dementia, with the last test given eight years after the study began. Forty-six participants were diagnosed with dementia during that period.

After adjusting for other factors that could have contributed to the risk of developing dementia, such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and smoking, the results showed that those who scored high on the cynicism test (deemed to have a high level of cynical distrust) were three times as likely to develop dementia as those with low levels of cynicism.

Mercola points out links between attitude and physical health

Dr. Mercola is no stranger to promoting the link between attitude and physical health, often touting the benefits of reduced stress and positive thoughts on overall well-being. In response to the study linking cynicism to brain health, he points out that prior research has also linked cynicism to other negative health impacts:

  • Women who have hostile and cynical outlooks are more likely to die prematurely than those with a positive outlook. They also have higher rates of death from coronary heart disease.
  • Cynical people have higher stress levels and often lack the positive social support systems compared to those with  positive attitudes.
  • Cynicism is associated with poor oral health.
  • Cynicism can slow the metabolism in middle age and beyond.

Drawing the logical conclusion between cynicism and poor health

It’s not difficult to draw a logical connection between cynicism and negative health consequences. Stress triggers a hormone known as the “stress” hormone, or cortisol, which sends the body into protection mode and conserves energy — in other words, preserves fat stores so that your body has energy resources should food become unavailable.

While that may be unlikely to actually occur, it’s a physiological response that humans have maintained through adaptation.This increased storage of fat contributes to weight gain and obesity, which of course is linked to diabetes, heart disease and all kinds of health concerns. And numerous studies have linked those very health conditions to an increased likelihood of developing dementia.

Being happy might not prevent dementia, but it sure can’t hurt

So it’s not difficult to draw a logical conclusion that a negative attitude is, in general, not a good thing for your body. While research hasn’t yet shown that any of these things actually cause dementia, only that the presence of one increases the odds that the same individual will eventually develop dementia, it’s probably safe to assume that having a more positive attitude can only benefit your physical health by reducing stress and making you more amenable to certain situations, such as a friend asking you to take a hike on a warm, sunny day.

Above all, though, life is generally more enjoyable when you approach it with a happy, healthy mindset. So if you’re feeling cynical, make an effort to lighten your mood. Participate in activities that tend to relax you and make you feel happy, like reading a book, taking a walk through the neighborhood, visiting a friend or volunteering at a local senior center. Make a concerted effort to focus on the good and you just might shift your general outlook on life. You’ll feel better when you stop focusing on the things that make you feel cynical, and your body and brain will thank you for it, too.

Post by Angela Stringfellow

Senior Advisor

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