A critical area of concern in the field of Anti-Aging Medicine is the prevention of Dementia, specifically Alzheimer’s disease. I have seen this medical condition wreak havoc on individuals and families. There has been little hope for prevention until now.
A new study shows that the death rate from Alzheimer’s has risen 55% in the last 15 years. This dramatic change also appears to be a significant new risk for increasing mortality rates. Globally, there are more than 50 million people affected by Alzheimer’s, and that is estimated to increase to 125 million by 2050.
Alzheimer’s mainly affects people over the age of 65 (some research suggests symptoms can occur as early as the early 40’s) and the most common symptom and effect is chronic disabling memory loss. Other common symptoms/conditions associated with the disease are impaired language, difficulty in concentrating/ decision making, confusion and ultimately disorientation. It’s both emotionally and physically draining not only to the individuals, but their families as well.
One of the interesting correlations between Alzheimer’s and the rising risks of both Cancer and Heart Disease, is that they all coincide with the increasing frequency to what is commonly known as the Western diet. This, essentially “junk food” diet usually includes high amounts of sugar and poor quality fats.
In the field of Precision Based Medicine we are always looking for genes or markers for predispositions (a family history of) to specific chronic illnesses, which allows us to make evaluations based on our Genetics. One gene is the ApoE4 which is a genetically linked cause of Alzheimer’s Disease. There is a variant to the gene called ApoE3 which seems to have no effect as to whether you develop Alzheimer’s or not.
Individuals with the ApoE4 gene who consume a Western diet typically experience the development of specific plaques in their brains; which are genetic markers for inflammation. Whereas individuals with the ApoE3 gene who consume the same diet, are not affected.
In a study conducted by researchers at The Davis School of Gerontology at USC, mice who had both genetic variant were fed a specific diet equivalent to the typical American diet. The findings showed that both mice developed diabetic and pre-diabetic conditions.
Most significantly, those who had the ApoE4 gene went on to develop the plaques that were associated with cognitive impairment and memory loss. While those that exhibited the ApoE3 did not develop Alzheimer’s.
Another study published in the Journal of Science found a very clear link between blood sugar levels and Alzheimer’s disease. This is because of damage to a specific enzyme called MIF (Microphage Migration Inhibitory Factor) which plays a role in immune response and regulation. It may be that specific genes such as ApoE4 are unable to reduce MIF activity, and that could ultimately act as a tipping point.
What we are learning is that there may be very specific ways to not only diagnose people who are at high risk, but to also reduce the potential for developing Alzheimer’s disease. One of which, is to change the type of diet and amounts of sugar that we are consuming. Sugar, which is toxic to the brain, causes inflammation that the body is unable to protect itself from. In response, the body develops plaques which block the way neurons function, resulting in memory loss and eventually Alzheimer’s. This ability to direct genes through diet is a function of an emerging science called nutrigenomics.
Understanding these specific risks associated with certain genes allows us to take precautionary steps such as eliminating harmful sugars, inflammatory compounds such as artificial sweeteners, flavorings and colorings and to include supplements like turmeric and resveratrol. This might have the beneficial effect of altering inflammatory genetics.
To further reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s in genetically predisposed patients who visit The Firshein Center, I typically perform cutting-edge specialized genetic testing. The results provide insights that may cause some fear for many patients; but more importantly, it quickly provides the medical direction that ensures optimal health. Hence, the importance of Precision Based Medicine and genetic testing in determining which individuals may benefit from the information found in these studies. Patients with specific genetic pre-dispositions can embark on specific protocols which have the likely benefit of reducing or eliminating the gene expression for Alzheimer’s and ultimately the disease itself.