Dr. Richard Isaacson, associate professor of neurology at Weill Cornell Medical College, disagrees. “The reason I believe in testing for APOE4 is because some people really want to know more about themselves, and it really democratizes the ability to learn about those risks,” he said. “Not about whether they’re going to get sick, but about what we can do about it.”
If you decide to get tested, Margaret Pericak-Vance, director of the John P. Hussman Institute for Human Genomics at the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine, said she would “suggest to meet with a genetic counselor afterwards because the risk isn’t easy.”
“Having one or two copies gives you an important part of the picture, but it’s just one part of a very complex risk picture,” said Dr. Isaacson. “Genes are not your destiny. You can win a tug of war against your genes.”
How can you reduce your chance of getting Alzheimer’s?
All experts interviewed for this article agreed that regardless of your genetic status, you can reduce the overall risk of developing dementiaincluding Alzheimer’s disease. Research shows that proven and true healthy habits — exercise, proper nutrition, limiting alcohol intake, getting enough sleep, not smoking, and being social — are the key to preventing neurodegenerative diseases.
exercise, both endurance and strength traininghelps the brain develop new connections between cells, especially in the hippocampus, an area important for memory. Scientists believe that making more connections may protect against memory loss. Dr. Small said that if you have the APOE4 variant, “exercise can still be beneficial. There are some studies showing that it may even be more beneficial for people at genetic risk.”
There is also evidence that healthy eating, such as mediterranean dietCan be useful. In particular, it is good to eat fruits and vegetables that are high in antioxidants, as well as fish containing omega-3 fats, which can reduce inflammation. “These diets can have a huge impact on brain health,” said Dr. Small.
While the importance of vitamins and healthy fats in your diet is clear, the case for taking supplements for brain health weak. Dr. Isaacson said a person’s genes may play a role in whether supplements can be beneficial. For example, research work suggests that people with two copies of APOE4 cannot absorb omega-3 fats from their diet, as well as people without the genetic variant. Taking an omega-3 supplement may be beneficial for this particular group of people, he says, but probably not helpful for others.