Sunday, April 10, 2011

Alzheimer’s, genes and cholesterol

I could simply say here "Those pesky genes again" but I do have another concern.

As the article rightly says, cholesterol is involved in brain function. And people with high cholesterol are normally given cholesterol-lowering medications (statins). The article links cholesterol to Alzheimer's but could it in fact be the statins that are causing the Alzheimer's? People on statins do normally report side-effects of confusion, poor memory etc. So the upsurge in Alzheimer's COULD be an effect of the upsurge in Statin use! It could be the cure rather than the disease that is causing the mental problems noted. Rather alarming

The two largest studies of Alzheimer’s disease, an international analysis of genes of more than 50,000 people, have led to the discovery of five new genes that make the disease more likely in the elderly and provide tantalizing clues about what might start Alzheimer’s and fuel its progress in a person’s brain.

The new genes add to a possible theme: genes that increase Alzheimer’s risk in the elderly tend to be involved with cholesterol and with inflammation. They also may be used to transport molecules inside cells.

For years, there have been unproven but persistent hints that cholesterol and inflammation are part of the disease process. People with high cholesterol were more likely to get Alzheimer’s disease. In addition, strokes and head injuries, which make Alzheimer’s more likely, also cause brain inflammation.

And researchers say the studies, to be published today in Nature Genetics, are so large and well done that they have little doubt that the genes really do have something important to reveal about the disease process.

“The level of evidence is very, very strong,’’ said Dr. Michael Boehnke, a professor of biostatistics at the University of Michigan who does similar studies in diabetes and bipolar disease.

But while the new genes are clearly linked to Alzheimer’s, each gene only slightly increases an individual’s risk, so they will not be used to decide if a person is likely to develop Alzheimer’s.

For instance, the new genes are nowhere near as powerful as a gene discovered in 1995, APOE, a cholesterol metabolism gene that can increase risk by 400 percent if a person inherits one copy and 1,000 percent if a person inherits a copy from each parent. In contrast, each of the new genes increases risk by no more than 10 percent to 15 percent.

“APOE is the big whopper,’’ said Dr. Rudolph Tanzi, a neurology professor at Harvard Medical School and an author of one of the papers. “It is in a class of its own.’’


Daily trip to the shops 'helps you live longer'

The authors themselves admit that shopping of itself may not be the key factor so I will say no more -- JR

Perhaps it is not the news that hen-pecked husbands would want to hear. But scientists believe that a daily trip to the shops could help you live longer.

A 10-year study of almost 2,000 people found that those who went to the shops more or less every day were about a quarter less likely to die over that period than the average person.

Researchers believe this could be because shopping is a convenient, enjoyable and sociable way of getting exercise.

They looked at the shopping habits of 1,850 people aged 65 and over, living at home without support, who had taken part in a national health survey. Of those, 17 per cent shopped every day, 22 per cent between two and four times a week, 13 per cent once a week, and 48 per cent even less frequently. Those who shopped daily were 27 per cent less likely than average to die over the study period, from 1999 to 2008.

And while almost every man has protested at one time or other that "being dragged around the shops is killing me", men appear to benefit from a daily dose of retail therapy more than women. Female daily shoppers were 23 per cent less likely to die over the decade - but male daily shoppers were 28 per cent less likely to do so.

The study adjusted for factors known to have a significant effect on a person's health - and hence their chance of dying over a particular period - such as age, sex, and whether they smoked, drank, or took exercise.

The authors, from Taiwan's National Health Research Institutes, acknowledged that frequent shopping could simply be a sign of underlying better health, while infrequent shopping could be indicative of impaired mobility and general ill health.

However, in an article published today (THUR) in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, they suggest that frequent shopping might have "a direct impact on survival" too. They write: "Shopping captures several dimensions of personal wellbeing, health, and security as well as contributing to the community's cohesiveness and economy, and may represent or actually confer increased longevity."

Much like teenagers hanging out in a shopping centre, they postulate that for the elderly frequent trips to the shops might not always be about shopping. They might be about getting out to see one's friends or, indeed, taking a little light exercise too.

They argue: "Elderly people may window shop, obtain prescribed drugs, bank, or walk for exercise, seek companionship and avoid loneliness."

Maureen Hinton, lead analyst at Verdict, a London retail consultancy, thought the study made sense. She said: "By shopping daily, you are having a regular connection with the community, even if it's just with your local shop keeper."

But what exactly was it about shopping that helped prolong lives, she asked. "I wonder if it's the exercise - or the enjoyment of buying things."


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