Will I Get Alzheimer’s Disease if a Family Member Has It?
Neurologist Ken Sharlin Responds
The question frequently comes up, when someone has a family member, perhaps a grandparent or a parent that has been affected by Alzheimer’s Disease, whether they as well will develop Alzheimer’s Disease? Now, there’s a few things to know about that. Right now, we do distinguish between early-onset and late-onset Alzheimer’s Disease. Traditionally, this distinction has been based on age, although, in reality, the distinction is based on certain genetic markers.
Let’s talk about genes and especially the so-called late-onset Alzheimer’s Disease, because late-onset Alzheimer’s Disease is associated with a gene called ApoE4. We get one gene from each of our parents, so a person could have one or two copies of this ApoE4 gene. The question is if you have one or two copies of this ApoE4 gene, will you get Alzheimer’s Disease? The answer is, well, you might.
I know that sounds very scary, but if you have one copy of the ApoE4 gene, your risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease is about three times that of the general population. If you have 2 copies of this ApoE4 gene, your risk is about 15 times that of the general population. We think that by the time a person is about 67 or 68-years-old, if they have two copies of ApoE4 there’s about a 90% chance that they will have Alzheimer’s.
But the good news is that the reason the risk of Alzheimer’s Disease is so terribly increased is because this gene interacts with the environment. Meaning, the world that we live in, the world that we see when we wake up in the morning, the food that we eat, the type of movement we have in our lives, nutrient deficiencies, sleep pattern, stress patterns, and other factors, including hormonal signals, hormone signals in the body.
Even though we can’t actually exchange out our genes, we can change that environment. We can change the factors that influence the expression of the genes. So when we apply the principles that Dr. Bredesen has outlined, that functional medicine has used for several years now, it’s actually possible to change that trajectory. That knowledge becomes power. Knowing that you have an ApoE4 gene, one or two copies, may allow you to make the types of decisions, the types of changes in your life with the guidance that someone like myself can offer you to change the probability of developing Alzheimer’s Disease.
You don’t have to get Alzheimer’s Disease
We now know that people who have ApoE4 genes can change their trajectory and reverse the course of the disease or prevent themselves from getting it in the first place. Now, that might seem like a lot, but this is published data…published scientific data. The other thing to keep in mind is if you feel like you’re a little complacent with life, you function pretty well, and you’re successful in your business, and there’s nothing wrong, there’ve been studies that have shown that people who are positive for this ApoE4 gene have changes in their brain in the second and third decades of their life.
Before they ever develop the disease, their brain is already evolving those changes that lead them down the road to Alzheimer’s Disease. So, in effect, they basically have Alzheimer’s Disease. It’s extremely important that we identify as early as possible those who are at highest risk and help them through the changes that they need to make, what Dr. Bredesen calls the 36 holes in the roof. We need to patch all 36. We can’t get away with 5 or 10. We need to patch 36 holes in the roof to help that person or their family member change that trajectory, so they never are burdened with this horrible condition.
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