It’s 16 years since the last genetic identification of Alzheimer’s factors. This is potentially huge, as at least 1 in 4 cases of Alzheimers are known to have a strong genetic component, and it has long been suspected that other gene clusters are very important factors in the development of the disease.
The most exciting part – two of the three genes found appear to be crucial in cleaning up the protein deposits that form a type of plaque in the brain which interferes with neuronal function in cases of Alzheimer’s Disease. i.e. it could be possible to devise a form of gene therapy for people currently showing signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s.
But even before such therapies can be developed, people who know/believe that they have a genetic predisposition to Alzheimer’s can look to other strategies to manage their risk –
Carrying mutated genes that are linked to Alzheimer’s may not ultimately result in Alzheimer’s disease. According to Dr. Colin T Campbell, a distinguished nutrition professor at Cornell University, genetics may only play a small role in the development of diseases such as Alzheimer’s and cancer. Environmental factors have the major effect on the outcome.
As a matter of fact, many studies have suggested that following a healthy diet and lifestyle, the risk for Alzheimer’s disease can be substantially reduced.
One study recently reported by foodconsumer.org found that high intake of meat, butter, high-fat dairy products, eggs, and refined sugar are more likely found in Alzheimer’s patients than healthy people.
The study was conducted by Polish scientists and reported in the April 6, 2009 issue of International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.
Previous studies also found that lack of dietary omega3 fatty acids and presence of high sugar levels and high cholesterol levels in the blood may increase risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
The article quoted above goes on to mention other research into dietary supplements that have demonstrated some benefits in vitro in inhibiting the aggregation of amyloid proteins into plaque formations, but that research seems to be still in the early stages; very promising nonetheless.
Other factors identified in Alzheimer’s:
- high levels of language skill in one’s twenties seems to have a protective effect against the disease (Snowdon et al 1996, Iacono et al 2009) – summary at Wired.
- an antibody has been identified in populations that do not display Alzheimer’s signs/symptoms that may lead to an immunological avenue for treatment (Relkin et al, 2008)
- daily caffeine also appears to have a measurably beneficial effect on brain function over time
As a sideline, it’s interesting how reports of this discovery identify the researchers depending on the presumed readership. The most general description mentions 80 researchers from all over the world, AFP describes a coordinated “gene trawl” taking place in seven countries. Other reports mention “British and French”, “European” or just “UK” researchers. Ain’t parochialism grand?