Alzheimer's gene link to the heart

November 28, 1997

People who live longer do not have to fear a decrepit old age if they just keep active, say scientists

TAKING action to protect against heart disease could also help protect people against Alzheimer's disease, a Newcastle University researcher believes.

Raj Kalaria, a leading researcher into the degenerative changes in the brain, recently moved to Newcastle's Institute for the Health of the Elderly as a professor in the psychiatry department.

It is estimated that 15 per cent of the population aged over 65 will develop Alzheimer's disease. The percentage doubles every decade. People are likely to develop the disease by a combination of hereditary and environmental factors.

Professor Kalariah has found that almost 80 per cent of patients with Alzheimer's disease when they died also had heart disease.

A form of the apolipoprotein E gene is seen as a major risk factor for Alzheimer's, and Professor Kalaria found that people carrying this "undesirable" gene were almost three times more likely to have both Alzheimer's and heart disease. His work suggests that the gene induces heart disease, which in turn induces Alzheimer's.

"We don't really know how this form of gene works, but the implications are that it has a role in increasing the build up of lipid material in blood vessel walls, narrowing the arteries and impairing blood flow," he said.

At present, nothing can be done to eradicate the gene, but it may be possible to minimise its impact.

"If you can take measures to protect your heart, such as controlling blood pressure, taking exercise and eating healthy food, this could protect your brain as well," Professor Kalaria said.

"If you improve your heart circulation, the blood supply to the brain should remain normal and the exchange of nutrients from blood to the brain would be intact, giving nourishment even to the ageing brain. If the supply of nutrients, including glucose and oxygen, is not impaired, it will perhaps help the brain to continue functioning more efficiently."

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