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Our risk of developing Alzheimer’s or dementia is determined partly by our genetic makeup and partly through environmental factors including diet and lifestyle.
The APOE gene has become well known because it has been linked to Alzheimer’s disease. It is a gene involved in cholesterol metabolism in our brain cells.
There are three APOE gene variations in humans APOE2, APOE3 or APOE4. Because we receive one gene from each of our parents we have six potential combinations of these variations, namely APOE2/2, 2/3, 2/4, 3/3, 3/4 or 4/4.

Most of us (64%) carry the ApoE3/3 combination and this is considered neutral in its effect on our brain.

The darn ugly one of this group is APOE4/4 which fortunately only 5% of us carry as this version. But around 15 to 18% of us carry at least one APOE4 gene.

50% of people who develop Alzheimer’s will have APOE4. But just because you may be carrying this ugly gene, it does not mean you will definitely develop Alzheimer’s.

So should we worry at all about whether we may carry this so called “bad’ version or not?

Well the short answer is yes it matters. But whether we know which version we have or not, some good news has recently been released from a study from Tel Aviv showing how diet can help to negate the potential bad effects of APOE4.
The researchers here used animal models to look at the effect of diet and environment on APOE4 carriers.
Mice who ate a diet high in Omega-3 oils (from fish) and low in cholesterol were shown to have a significant reduction of any negative effects associated with the “bad” APOE4.

This means that eating fish two to three times a week (or taking fish oil capsules) as currently recommended for good brain and heart health, would certainly appear to be sound advice to assist in protecting our brain from the potentially harmful affect of APOE4. Testing for APOE is not currently recommended or readily available in Australia, so even without knowing what APOE genotype we are we can enjoy eating our fish knowing we are doing something positive for our brain.

Stick to a brain healthy diet

The bottom line is: eat more fish, use olive oil and keep your cholesterol down, to preserve your cognitive function. This fishy diet appears to be neuro-protective regardless of which APOE gene we carry.

Good diets can alleviate the effects of bad genes.

Prof Michaelson Tel Aviv University. Dept Neurobiology George Wise Faulty of Life Sciences. American Friends of Tel Aviv University (2011, February 16). Good diets fight bad Alzheimer’s genes: Diets high in fish oil have a beneficial effect in patients at risk

Disclaimer: All material provided in this blog is of an educational nature only and does not constitute medical advice, diagnosis or treatment

Dr Jenny Brockis

Dr Jenny Brockis is a medical practitioner and internationally board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, workplace health and wellbeing consultant, keynote speaker and best-selling author. You can now pre-order her new book ‘The Natural Advantage’ due for publication in October 2024.

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