After Analyzing 107 Humans Brains, Researchers Have Uncovered Biological Clues

Currently, we cannot TRULY diagnose Alzheimer’s until a patient is deceased. Only then, can researchers study the brain of that individual to confirm that their symptoms were, in fact, due to this degenerative disease.

I recently covered an article regarding Aaron Hernandez, which uncovered shocking characteristics of his brain post-death. After a thorough autopsy, it was found that he suffered from severe chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). This condition is strongly linked to dementia, caused by repetitive head injuries.

Similarly, in order to better understand the brain in terms of an Alzheimer’s prognosis — researchers need to physically study human brains. Luckily, thousands of people do donate their brains to research, allowing researchers across the globe to make significant progress.

Based on a recent, highly comprehensive analysis, researchers discovered some incredible clues regarding Alzheimer’s and dementia. It’s exciting, and I want to share it with you.

What Researchers Found After Examining 107 Aged Human Brains

Researchers from the Allen Institute for Brain Science recently published findings from their in-depth analysis. After studying 107 aged human brains, they uncovered details that will help researchers better understand biological factors regarding Alzheimer’s and dementia.

We’re living longer than ever before, which is influencing our understanding of both healthy aging and age-related diseases. Focusing on the biology of Alzheimer’s, this study highlighted surprising variability within the human aged brain. In fact, they found examples of donors who displayed resilience to disease pathology.

Samples came from the Adult Changes in Thought Study — a longitudinal research project led by researchers from the Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute, as well as from the University of Washington School of Medicine.

To summarize:

  • The study’s objective: To explore the connection between cognitive decline and brain pathologies, which are typically attributed to disease, including the development of Alzheimer’s.

  • It was found that the more aged brains showed a distinct correlation between Alzheimer’s-associated plaques and tangle and cognitive decline — however, the relationship was not as strong as in younger cohorts.

  • The researchers also found a relationship between dementia and decreased quality RNA — which plays a key role in gene expression. This is something that will be studied more closely in the future.

  • By collaborating with the Allen Institute for Brain Science, the researchers were able to gain greater insight into the relationship between gene expression, neuropathology, RNA quality, and other key clinical features tracked over the course of 20 years. This has allowed researchers to gain key insights, that were not possible before.

Biological Factors Related to Alzheimer’s

Since Alzheimer’s is such a complex disease, it is believed that development occurs based on a combination of biological and environmental factors. While focusing strictly on biological risk factors, here is what you need to know. The following factors present the greatest risk:

  • Age — To date, age is the most significant known risk factor regarding Alzheimer’s. After the age of 65, one’s risk doubles every five years. Although this disease can develop at any age, especially in relation to familial Alzheimer’s, one’s risk is low when under the age of 60. It’s important to note, however, that dementia and Alzheimer’s are NOT an inevitable part of the aging process. This is why researchers are so interested in other potential contributing variables.

  • Family history — Researchers have already uncovered genetic risk factors, based on key genetic mutations. Only a small portion of Alzheimer’s patients are affected by familial Alzheimer’s (approximately 5 percent of cases), but a family history can also play a role in late-onset Alzheimer’s. While studying twins over the age of 70, researchers have found fairly strong indicators in terms of genetic causation.

  • Genetics — While focusing on genetics as a whole, genes can influence disease in two ways. First of all, genes can undergo mutations — but can also be expressed as gene variations. While mutations are more commonly associated with early onset Alzheimer’s; the ApoE e4 gene is more commonly linked to late onset familial cases. In fact, having just one copy of this gene can increase your risk by up to four times — and when patients display two copies of this gene, their risk becomes 10 times greater.
  • Gender — It’s said that Alzheimer’s affects more women than men, so gender may also play a role. It’s not clear whether or not this is due to biology, or the fact that women tend to live longer than men. Overall, 66 percent of dementia patients are women, however, vascular dementia is more common among men. This may be due to risk factors, such as heart disease and high blood pressure (which are more common in men).

What You Can Do

Although you cannot alter your genes, you can still take proactive action. Remember, risk factors do not mean that you will develop dementia. Each risk factor simply increases your chances. Although genetics and heredity play a major role, there are modifiable risk factors.

Of course, there’s no guarantee of prevention on an individual basis — but as a population, taking proactive action is the most effective strategy to-date. Some of the most important factors that have been shown to increase your chances include:

  • Living with diabetes (especially when blood sugar levels are not controlled).

  • Suffering from midlife obesity — as well as hypertension.

  • Being a smoker.

  • Living with depression.

  • A lack of cognitive activity — as well as lower levels of education.

  • A lack of regular physical activity.

As stated in a program to reduce the prevalence of Alzheimer’s, the Alzheimer’s Association of Australia listed the following five steps to reduce your risk:

  • Step 1: Look after your heart.

  • Step 2: Be more physically active.

  • Step 3: Challenge your brain.

  • Step 4: Consume a healthy, balanced diet.

  • Step 5: Be more social and continue to engage in social activities as you age.

The time is now. As you become more aware of affiliated risk factors, it’s up to you to take action. Protect your future health by making positive decisions today!

Krista Hillis has a B.A.Sc degree, specializing in neuroscience and psychology. She is actively involved in the mental health and caregiving community, aiming to help others. Krista is also passionate about nutrition and the ways in which lifestyle choices affect and influence the human brain.

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