Chris Hemsworth revealed on Friday that he has two genes that put him at a much higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s than the average person, but neurologists tell The Daily Beast that’s not necessarily alarming.
The revelation came during a recent episode of Hemsworth’s National Geographic series Unlimitedairing on Disney+, which claims to offer “fascinating insights into how we can all unlock our body’s superpowers to fight disease, perform better, and even reverse the aging process.”
In episode five, titled “Memory”, Dr. Peter Attia tells the Australian actor that he has two copies of the APOE4 gene, one from his mother and one from his father. This, Attia says, makes it up to 10 times more likely that he will develop Alzheimer’s disease compared to the average person. Hemsworth is seen having a grim reaction to the news as he adjusts his posture and focuses intently on the doctor’s words. During a confessional filmed afterwards, he said he was “defeated”.
The information was apparently so sensitive that Attia called Unlimited creator Darren Aronofsky to tell him he’d rather break the news privately than on camera, Hemsworth says vanity loungeadding that the whole thing was “pretty shocking”.
Only about 2 to 3 percent of people have both copies of the gene, says Dr. Corinne Pettigrew, outreach, recruitment and engagement manager at Johns Hopkins Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center.
And that doesn’t mean Hemsworth is guaranteed to develop the disease.
For starters, a crash course in the gene might be helpful. The apolipoprotein E, or APOE, gene tells your body how to make the protein of the same name, which helps metabolize fat and transport cholesterol around your body. The gene comes in variations, or alleles, APOE2, APOE3, and APOE4.
The APOE4 gene carries the “worst possible risk for Alzheimer’s disease,” says Dr. Lawrence S Honig, professor of neurology at Columbia University and director of the New York State Center of Excellence for Alzheimer’s Disease. Alzheimer’s.
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“It’s true that having one or two APOE4s increases the risk, but it’s not determinative, so we don’t generally find it useful to test it except in a research setting,” Honig told The Daily Beast.
Honig and Sam Gandy, professor of neurology and director of the Mount Sinai Center for Cognitive Health, point out that a good portion of Alzheimer’s patients – between a third and a half – do not have APOE4 genes at all. .
“Not everyone with two copies develops Alzheimer’s disease,” says Gandy. “There are rare people who escape it. Diet and lifestyle are important.
Resistance to the worst effects of the gene, which some seem to possess in greater quantity than others, is also important. “They might be carrying what we call resilience genes,” says Gandy.
Although the exact link between APOE4 and Alzheimer’s disease is not established, studies show links between the gene and the accumulation of amyloid plaques and tau “tangles”, both of which are widely considered to be telltale signs of Alzheimer’s disease. The gene also disrupts the blood-brain barrier. “It is important that blood proteins are separated from brain proteins. People with this gene have a leaky blood-brain barrier,” says Gandy. Additionally, APOE4 is believed to create the protein that helps transport cholesterol. Myelin, an insulating layer that allows nerve cells to develop electrical properties to communicate with each other, requires a lot of cholesterol. The gene can “alter” the amount of cholesterol myelin receives, Gandy says. A fourth connection is that APOE4 genes stimulate inflammation.
But with the disease being so tied to your genetic makeup, Honig is loath to recommend anyone take a test like the one Hemsworth took.
“What is he supposed to do with this information?” said Honig. “The answer is that he can’t do much with this information, because he doesn’t know whether or not he will get this disease, and we don’t have a clear way to prevent Alzheimer’s disease for him. moment.”
Pettigrew agrees. Although she has seen estimates that indicate the risk for patients with two APOE4 alleles is 10 times higher than for people without, “there is nothing we can do at this point. , to our knowledge, that would permanently stop or prevent dementia.
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For Hemsworth, the Marvel star Thor frankly, the news that he carried two APOE4 alleles was all the more poignant given that his grandfather is currently living with the incurable disease.
“I’m not sure he remembers much more and he goes in and out of Dutch, which is his original language, so he’ll speak Dutch and English, then a mixture and maybe some other new ones. words too.” the 39-year-old said. vanity lounge.
Hemsworth says the news, and the show in general, forced him to consider his lifestyle and take a step back. He now plans to finish his remaining contracts and take “a little time off and just simplify”.
Altogether, doctors agree that positive lifestyle changes like a heart-healthy diet, exercise, and regular social interaction can help someone avoid the worst effects of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia-related illnesses, even when the risk seems high.
“Even if you can push it back 10 years, that’s a huge increase in the cognitive and functional time you have,” says Pettigrew.
Honig adds that some of the drugs currently being worked on also offer some hope. One drug in particular shows that people with APOE4 might benefit more from its use.
“Having APOE4 – one or two – increases the amount of amyloid protein in the brain in general, but also in the blood vessels,” says Honig. “If you have more amyloid, the antibodies give you more side effects, but the same way you get the side effects, that may mean the antibody works better on the amyloid.”
There’s hope, but until these drugs are further researched and reach a wider market, “you’re kind of stuck with your genes,” Honig says.
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