As technology continues to make incredible advancements, we have new ways to help you identify potential risks to your health in the future. One of these novel discoveries is the ability to test for APOE4, a gene that is linked to Alzheimer's Disease. At Serenity Health Care Center of Waukesha, WI, we can test for this gene and many others as part of a complete genetic evaluation.
But what is APOE4, and should you consider getting tested for it? Find out if a genetic evaluation is right for you.
What Is APOE4?
APOE stands for Apolipoprotein E: a protein that performs multiple roles in the body. Most importantly, it is responsible for lipid (fat) transport in the blood and brain.
Studies have shown that when this protein does not operate correctly that it may affect nutrient transfer to the brain, which in turn could lead to late-onset Alzheimer's Disease. However, there are multiple variants of this gene, and only one is associated with a higher risk of the disease.
If you can recall your science classes in high school, you might remember discussing genes and making Punnett Squares. Alleles are variations of a single gene. You inherit one copy from your father and another from your mother.
With APOE, there are 3 common variants: E2, E3, and E4. That last one is strongly associated with a higher risk of late-onset Alzheimer's.
Your Risk for Alzheimer's Disease
The general population has about a 10% general chance of developing late-onset Alzheimers, and early-onset Alzheimer's rates are between 1-5%. If you have a family history of Alzheimer's, your risk doubles.
But your APOE allele has a significant impact on your risk. Individuals who do not have the E4 allele run a 9% risk of getting Alzheimer's. A single copy of the E4 allele, from one parent, doubles your risk, while those with two copies of the E4 allele may have as much as a 25% (male) or 45% (female) risk of developing the late-onset version of the disease.
Can You Test for APOE4?
As the cost of gene sequencing and testing has dropped dramatically in recent years, more and more testing options have opened up to everyday people. Scientists have been able to experiment and discover more associations between genes and disorders. As a result, today there is a highly accurate way to test your APOE alleles.
Testing for APOE4 is quite simple. It can be done via a blood sample or a buccal swab. Both of these methods provide a sufficient amount of DNA to process. Most tests will require two samples, one of which is kept on hand for verification if the results are positive. This ensures that the samples were not tampered with or contaminated.
If both samples are tested and the results are different, then you would need to send new samples to determine which result was correct. However, in practice, this is uncommon as testing has become extremely accurate.
Who Should Get Tested?
Generally, doctors recommend waiting until you are older to get this test. For younger people, the test may actually complicate life, as a positive result for the E4 allele could have implications on your insurance coverage. It also can be stressful to receive results you can do little about if you're too young.
Individuals in their 50s who are concerned about getting Alzheimer's, however, and especially those who have noticed a mild cognitive decline, may want to learn more about their genetic profile.
What Do Your Test Results Mean?
If you choose to have a test to determine your APOE alleles, what should you expect from your results? How can you interpret this information? While there is still much to learn about Alzheimer's Disease, you can get a better understanding of your risk by looking at your results.
Testing Positive for the E4 Allele
Since there are three alleles and you have two parents, there are 6 possible combinations that you can test for. These are E2/E2, E2/E3, E2/E4, E3/E3, E3/E4, and E4/E4. If you have one copy of the E4 allele, then your risk for late-onset Alzheimer's Disease is increased compared to the general population.
If you have two copies of the E4 allele, a highly uncommon situation, you have a much higher risk of developing the disease. 50-70% of late-onset Alzheimer's patients have at least one copy of the E4 allele.
Testing Negative for the E4 Allele
What if you don't have any E4 alleles in your body at all? Are you totally safe? Not so fast. Approximately 30-50% of all Alzheimer's patients do not have any E4 alleles at all!
However, if you test positive for the E2 variant, which is actually the rarest of the three, you may have a reduced risk of developing AD. It turns out that E2 has been associated with a lower risk, and it may even help to prevent the disease.
Regardless of your test results, you should consider taking steps to reduce your risk even further.
Ways of Preventing Alzheimer's Disease
Is it possible to prevent Alzheimer's disease? While studies are still ongoing, some have shown that there are indeed ways to reduce your risk. Even if you have APOE4, you can make decisions and adjustments to your lifestyle that can actually keep certain genes from expressing themselves.
Taking good care of your body and brain are ways to reduce your risk. So let's look at some of the most successful methods.
Diet and Exercise
The National Institute of Health recommends the MIND diet, which incorporates a large number of plant-based foods. Leafy green vegetables, berries, nuts, beans, and olive oil are highly recommended. When it comes to meat, go easy on the red meat and opt instead of poultry or fish.
High levels of saturated fats are discouraged, so stay away from fast food, deep-fried anything, and heavy servings of transfats.
The Power of Exercise
The Alzheimer's Research and Prevention Foundation has shown that regular physical exercise can actually reduce your risk by 50% regardless of your APOE makeup. Exercise improves blood flow to all parts of the body, including the brain.
Staying physically active is a surefire way to keep your mind sharper for longer. Sedentary lifestyles often become boring as well, leading to a lack of mental stimulation.
Exercising your body is only half the battle. Research has found that mentally challenging activities like crossword puzzles, Sudoku and other types of brainteasers reduce your risk of Alzheimer's Disease.
When you put your brain to work, you stimulate new neural connections and improve your brain's plasticity, or its ability to learn new information and adapt. This fights the decay that we witness in Alzheimer's patients, and can even prevent further cognitive decline.
Book a Consultation Today
If you would like to learn more about how a genetic evaluation can benefit you, contact Serenity Health Care Center of Waukesha, Wisconsin. Not only can we test for APOE4 and other genes that may affect your long term health, but we can also show you how to adjust your lifestyle to prevent those problems from emerging. What's more, we'll help you unlock your genetic potential in order to activate the good genes that you have. All that and more is available when you book a consultation at Serenity Health Care Center.