Causes Of Alzheimer’s: What’s Really Known Today

For years, the causes of Alzheimer’s disease have been somewhat of a mystery. Doctors and researchers have worked diligently to unlock the secrets of this complex and devastating disease. Fortunately, great strides have been made recently in understanding the causes of Alzheimer’s.

Post mortem examinations of the brains of Alzheimer’s patients have shown large quantities of plaques and tangles in the brain. Plaques are deposits of the protein beta-amyloid that accumulate in the spaces between nerve cells. Tangles are deposits of the protein tau that accumulate inside of the nerve cells and become twisted.

While the exact cause of Alzheimer’s is still yet to be determined, several risk factors have been identified.

Age is the primary risk factor for the disease. Alzheimer’s generally develops in people over the age of 65. Furthermore, as you get older, the risk of contracting the disease increases exponentially. While less than 5% of people age 65-74 have Alzheimer’s, the chances of developing it doubles every 5 years after age 65. Almost 50% of the population over the age of 85 has the disease.

While researchers have not identified a gene that directly causes Alzheimer’s, there is strong evidence that there is a genetic component to the disease.

The APOE-e4 gene, a sub-type of the APOE gene, has been found in the majority of Alzheimer’s patients. The APOE gene provides the blueprint for one of the proteins that carries cholesterol in the blood stream.

There are three types of APOE genes: APOE-e2, APOE-e3, and APOE-e4. The most common form of the gene found in the majority of the population is APOE-e3. As of now, only the APOE-e4 gene has been linked to the development of Alzheimer’s.

Everyone has two copies of the APOE gene (one from each parent). People with one copy of the e4 gene are 2-3 times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s than those who don’t have a copy. The rare person who has two copies of the e4 gene (approximately 1% of the population) has a 9 times greater risk of contracting the disease.

Also, if you have a first degree relative (parent, sibling) with Alzheimer’s, your chances of developing the disease are up to 7 times greater. This provides further evidence that there is a genetic component to the disease.

So if you have a close relative with Alzheimer’s, monitor your memory functioning closely as you get older. It is much easier to delay the progression of the disease if you catch it in its early stages.

Serious head injuries, such as concussions, have also been linked to an increased risk of Alzheimer’s.

Fortunately, the causes of Alzheimer’s are not entirely out of your control. Dharma Singh Khalsa, M.D., President and Medical Director of the non-profit Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation, has found that by adopting healthy lifestyle choices, you can greatly reduce the risk of developing this devastating disease.

By lowering your stress levels, eating a healthy diet, and staying physically and mentally active, you can go a long way towards steering clear of Alzheimer’s disease.