Alzheimer's Disease - Prevention Is The Cure!
As we live longer lives, we are increasingly experiencing diseases that affect our cognitive health. Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) is the most well-known and significant cause of dementia and cognitive decline in the developed world. It has no one specific cause but rather a multitude of factors that influence whether or not we the hallmark signs and symptoms of the disease. It is widely accepted that both genetics and lifestyle play a substantial role in your risk for developing Alzheimer’s Disease.
I encourage my patients, especially those with a family history of dementia, to make plans early in their life for proactive healthcare that addresses not only their physical wellbeing, but cognitive and mental health as well. Part of being proactive is learning more about your genetic “weak spots” that pertain to neurological conditions. Through genetic testing, we are able to provide you with a roadmap for Alzheimer’s prevention by designing a personalized treatment plans to reduce your risks.
When we analyze your genetic risk for developing Alzheimer’s Disease, there are 4 genes that are most prescient in determining future risks: ApoE, MTHFR, APP and CETP. Many of these genes affect metabolism of fat, which is extremely important considering the brain/nervous system is mostly fat and depends on fat for fuel.
- ApoE is responsible for transporting cholesterol to areas of the brain called neurons. It is important to keep the brain fed with fat to ensure its proper function. Some people have variability in their genetic version of the ApoE gene that slightly reduces the ApoE ability to transport cholesterol in the brain, increasing the risk for nerve cell damage over time. Decreased ApoE function also impacts how well the brain can break up beta-amyloid plaques that are a hallmark sign of Alzheimer’s Disease.
- MTHFR A1298C has many roles in the body, one of which is to aid in the reduction of homocysteine and ammonia from the brain. If ammonia is allowed to build up in the brain, it can overwhelm cells in the brain called astrocytes, leading to their loss of function, a common sign of Alzheimer’s Disease.
- APP (Amyloid Precursor Protein) is a gene that is rarely functioning at a low level but if compromised, this gene will play a role in developing amyloid plaques and affects blood flow in the brain.
- CETP (Cholesterol Ester Transport Protein) is a gene that is responsible for utilization of cholesterol in the brain.
When we understand more about your genetic pathways that pertain to Alzheimer’s Disease, we can work together in a more personalized and proactive way to enhance these genetic weak spots with targeted gene therapies, nutrients, and medications.
In addition to genetic testing, investigating other lifestyle factors is important to completing the picture of AD risk:
- Cardiovascular Disease: Inadequate HDL (good cholesterol) and overaggressive LDL lowering therapies can put you at risk for AD. High blood pressure and recurrent stroke also raises your risk.
- Metabolic Dysfunction: Evidence exists that AD is related to a specific type of diabetes that selectively affects the brain and is caused by high levels of insulin due to insulin resistance and Insulin-like Growth Factor (IGF) deficiency. Obesity increases the risk of insulin abnormalities.
- Nutrient Toxicity: High levels of Glutamate, Calcium, Ammonia, and Iron are all implicated in increased risk for AD.
- Mitochondrial dysfunction due to oxidative stress and environmental toxicities is implicated as a possible mechanism the onset of Alzheimer’s Disease in the early stages.
- Mental Health: Chronic high stress can potentially alter the structure of the brain called the hippocampus, increasing the risk for AD. Studies have also seen a similar correlation with long standing depression and reduction in hippocampal volume.
It is important to work with a well-trained functional medicine physician to learn whether or not you have any of the above risk factors, many of which are modifiable and can greatly optimize your health when discovered early and treated appropriately. Due to our ability to understand and address risk factors, Alzheimer’s Disease should no longer be considered a destiny to fear, but rather a challenge to define and overcome, together!