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The anti-aging movement and Alzheimer’s Disease

Now, here’s the blog I’ve promised before and did not get around to.

Yesterday I received about 10 tweets about anti-aging supplements – I am in that business you know.

As a physician who’d like to implement the science proven in labs, the proof to me is in the pudding. The problem with these pills is that it often lacks what is called in medicine “evidence-based data”. That’s why I say I’d like to see how old Patrick Holford becomes, and how healthy he stays up to that day.

I write about your genes and how you can stay healthy if you pay attention and live a life that is in sync with your code. Twenty years ago when I studied, there was always debate about whether an outcome was nature or nurture – meaning it was the environment or the genes having the strongest effect. Now we know that at least 80% of all chronic diseases (diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s etc) are a combination of both. So, you carry a risk, whether you are going to get sick, depends on if you trigger it through your lifestyle!

We are not programmed to become older than 120, despite the story about Methusallah. We can however become 100 and stay healthy and active, physically and mentally. As scientists unravel the role of certain variants in genes, more and more associations between changes in DNA and disease outcomes are found. These changes often determine “susceptibility” or vulnerability to a disease – that’s why things run in families! However, these changes need a trigger, and the trigger is all too often our lifestyle.

That brings me to the risk of Alzheimer’s and where anti-aging supplements fit in. What is known as yet, is that many of the risk factors that underlie heart health, also underlies brain health. The gene profile currently available to screen for this risk, includes SNPs (DNA changes) involved in inflammation, clotting and fat accumulation – all critical elements of what was called in the old days “hardening of the arteries”. I think we should bring that term back, as it very accurately describes what happens – sometimes in the heart arteries and sometimes in the brain. Where it happens, obviously determine the result!

The SNP with the strongest association is called ApoE4. It is part of the group responsible for fat accumulation. ApoE4 has a 40% change of being associated with Alzheimer’s when the carrier takes alcohol, even in moderation. Other SNPs involved are called MTHFR, a variant involved in inflammation underlying many cellular processes. About 40% of the general population carry these mutations. The cool thing is however that if one takes ample folic acid and B vitamins, the “lazy” variant of the SNP is flooded and can function normally.

So, the story with the risk of Alzheimer’s is that there are some pointers known that can aid in living a lifestyle to minimise risk – and there is a real opportunity here. Some people say they don’t want to know. Well, if your mom or dad has it, you don’t have to be a geneticist to figure out that you have a chance to have it too. And knowing about your risk profile allows you to tailor that lifestyle as closely as possible to nurture your chances of healthy aging. Practical things like staying slim, keeping your blood pressure controlled, exercising that brain muscle, taking your B-vitamins and omega’s (no evidence that food state is better), eat plenty of greens (particularly broccoli) and berries, avoiding alcohol. The genes had been the same for generations, it’s the lifestyle that’s different.

The proof is in the pudding. Till next time.