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The Role Your Genes Play In Dementias Like Alzheimer's Disease And Cerebral Vascular Dementia

Written by: Patrick Smith, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.


Many questions continue to arise surrounding the numerous forms of dementia and whether genetics play a role, and the answer is yes or no. The two most common forms of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and cerebral vascular dementia, have been studied for decades, and the overwhelming evidence does identify genetic predisposition as a predictor of risk; but it is well established that lifestyle choices, including nutrition, sleep patterns, exercise, social relationships, and stress reduction can all be managed better and offset any genetic risks.

Hand erasing the brain from a head shape drawn on blackboard

Alzheimer’s Disease, the most prevalent form of dementia in the elderly, has some interesting and important characteristics to understand. Genetically, women contract this form of dementia twice as often as men. This genetic difference has been attributed to distinct reproductive endocrine systems which regulate estrogen, progesterone, luteinizing hormone, follicle-stimulating hormone, and gonadotrophic releasing hormone.

This complex hormonal interaction is very different for men and women, and research suggests these differences drive the progression of brain decline over 20-25 years, emerging as the symptoms we identify as Alzheimer’s Disease.

It has also been established that having early menopause and/or a hysterectomy can increase the risk of the disease and initiate the progression at a younger age. Men also suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, but their hormonal changes are different from women, and andropause has a very different trajectory than the endocrine changes at menopause.

The APOE4 gene has been given the most attention over the last thirty years. This gene plays a role in lipid transport imbalances in the brain and has been determined to be the primary root cause of beta-amyloid plaques that can be found in autopsied AD patients. However, it is only present in a very small portion of the population, 4% or less, and additionally, not all carriers of this gene get the disease. Therefore, it is a risk factor but not a definitive predictor. All attempts to modify this gene as a pharmaceutical treatment have failed.

Another finding of interest is blood type. Type AB blood has been shown to increase the risk for Alzheimer’s disease by 75% in large population studies, although once again, it is not a predictor. On the other hand, type O blood seems to be a protection from brain decline.

That’s the total role genes may play in AD, which points to lifestyle factors as being the dominant driver of the disease process and the determinant of gene expression.

Another type of dementia to consider is cerebral vascular dementia which is the second most prevalent form of dementia and is characterized by poor circulation in the blood transport vasculature in the brain. Genetically it has been shown that genes that disrupt cholesterol and glucose metabolism may play a role in this form of dementia. Oxygen transport to the brain and circulating nourishment is inhibited by poor vasculature, leading to neurons being starved and destroyed. It should be stressed again that these genetic predispositions increase risk, but they are not predictors of the disease process.

The most exciting findings in the past ten years are leading the way to a new era in brain health and long-term brain protection. Studies have emerged in scientific journals documenting the benefits of proper nutrition, healthy fats, anti-inflammatory foods, and antioxidants foods can have as preventative protection for the brain. Additionally, new studies are confirming potential healing effects on damaged brain circuitry.

There is hope; the overwhelming body of research is leading to healthy lifestyle changes and habits as the new cure for brain-related illnesses, and the future of brain health has entered a new frontier which is very exciting considering the predictions of increased prevalence and the devastating cost of treating dementia. It is important to understand that increased genetic risk can be modified, and gene expression can be altered positively. Dementia is not a genetic disease; it is a lifestyle disease and can be prevented.

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Patrick Smith, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Patrick S. Smith is an innovative entrepreneur who has worked for over 40 years in the Health Care, pharmaceutical, and medical nutrition arena. His accomplishments span many decades and have been recognized by major healthcare institutions, and he has been awarded an Honorary Doctorate Degree for his pioneering contributions to providing complex patient care in the home setting. He has spoken at over 100 Health Care Conferences and was voted as one of the top Health Care Service CEO’s in the USA by the Wall Street Transcript. His lifelong passion has been to provide game-changing creative solutions to some of society’s most pressing medical problems.



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