Alzheimers detection in young people is possible

April 16, 2009


Alzheimer’s is one of society’s greatest fears, and although this item has been covered this week in the mainstream press I just wanted to highlight in case you missed it. It seems it may now be possible to have an early diagnostic test in teenagers to establish their risk for the disease as scans have found that people carrying the affected gene show changes in their brain activity decades before any symptoms from dementia might occur.

This gene is responsible for removing cholesterol from the blood and taking it to the liver where it is broken down and is involved in brain function and repair. The APOE4 version of the gene has also been linked with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease and poor recovery from traumatic brain injuries. People who inherit one copy of the APOE4 gene are known to be at a four fold increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease while those with two copies are at ten times the normal risk. One in four of the population are though to have at least one copy of the gene, although even those who carry the altered gene are not certain to go on to have symptoms of dementia and those without the gene are not completely in the clear. A team at University of Oxford and Imperial College London carried out a series of brain scans on people aged between 20 and 35 who were showing no signs of the disease but were carrying the altered gene and compared the results to people with a different version of the gene. These results are the first to show that there was hyperactivity in the part of the brain involved in memory in healthy young people who have the APOE4 version of the gene. The study shows that their brains behave differently even when they are not asked to perform memory tests. It is thought the brains of people carrying the APOE4 version of the gene have to work harder both during memory tests and at rest and become ‘worn out’ which is what brings on symptoms of dementia later in life.

These are exciting first steps towards establishing a diagnostic procedure much earlier to show who may go on to develop Alzheimer’s and hopefully aid in prevention and treatment. Further news in this week is that the already popular Mediterranean diet might also significantly decrease the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, according to a study from the Taub Institute for Research on Alzheimer’s Disease and the Aging Brain at Columbia University.

A third of participants who strictly followed a Mediterranean diet were 28 percent less likely to develop borderline dementia than the third with the lowest adherence; and the diet also appeared to protect patients with borderline dementia from developing Alzheimer’s disease. Again, the ones with the highest adherence to the diet were 48 percent less likely to develop Alzheimer’s than the one-third with the lowest compliance. So get out the olive oil and increase the amount of vegetables, fish and pulses and decrease the saturated fats, dairy and red meat.


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