Alzheimer’s disease (AD) was officially recognized over a hundred years ago, but there’s still no effective treatment. About 25% of people in the world are born with one copy the APOE4 gene, which is linked to a higher risk of developing AD. Nearly 3% of the population has two copies of the gene—one each from parent —that increases risk for Alzheimer’s disease to about 60% by age 85. Diet, exercise, sleep and social engagement have all been linked to slowing AD-associated memory loss, but studies on those with the APOE4 risk factor have been inconclusive. Because people with APOE4 genes are more likely to develop AD, some researchers believe that they are more vulnerable to the effects of a poor diet, lack of exercise and minimal social interaction.
Based on this premise, researchers in Finland developed a non-drug, non-procedural, novel, comprehensive and personal approach to treating AD-associated memory loss dubbed the FINGER (Finnish Geriatric Intervention Study to Prevent Cognitive Impairment and Disability) study. In the latest study, “Effect of the Apolipoprotein E Genotype on Cognitive Change During a Multidomain Lifestyle Intervention,” published this week in JAMA Neurology, the researchers evaluated if people with an APOE4 gene would benefit from this lifestyle approach to prevent or slow AD. In the trial, involving more than 1000 subjects, the researchers randomly assigned people with and without the APOE4 gene to an intensive diet, exercise and brain training program, or to a control program of general health advice. The hope was that the APOE4 subjects who had a healthy diet, exercised regularly and were socially engaged would show reversal of memory loss.
Among those assigned to the diet, exercise and brain training group, there was little difference on tests of memory, processing speed and executive functioning over 2 years between those with and without the APOE4 gene. This suggests that lifestyle changes may be equally helpful in people with or without a genetic risk factor for AD. Results from the trial also suggested that healthy lifestyle changes could be beneficial for cognition in older at-risk individuals, whether they had the APOE4 gene or not. More research on lifestyle interventions to prevent and reverse AD in those with the APOE4 gene is needed to determine how non-drug interventions could prevent or improve symptoms in people with the disease.
This study emphasizes the importance of introducing non-drug strategies as early as possible to prevent, rather than treat, AD symptoms once they appear. The findings also highlighted the importance of strategies that incorporate multiple modifiable lifestyle factors, which is the basis of the RE:mind program at Afffirmativ Health. The RE:mind program uses both genetic and laboratory testing to identify an individual’s risk factor for AD, such as inflammation, poor blood glucose control, nutrient deficiencies, and other metabolic and lifestyle factors. A personalized therapeutic plan is then developed to address each identified risk factor to optimize cognitive function. To learn more about the RE:mind Program, visit www.affirmativhealh.com.