What do your genes say about you?
While your genetics are outside of your control, your genes are not your destiny. You may have genes that predispose you to certain health outcomes. If you do nothing to counteract them, you will develop that disease. But we know from the science that there is a lot we can do to make a difference in how our genes impact us.
When it comes to brain health, genes are not your destiny.
Medicine is becoming more and more personalized. Genetic testing is becoming more widespread. Doctors are taking genes into account when creating treatment plans. Pharmaceuticals are becoming more personalized. This is great news for treatment options. But it can lead us to think we are doomed if our genetics predispose us to certain diseases.
The good new is – when it comes to brain health, your DNA is not your destiny.
Lifestyle choices are significant in their impact on brain health. In some cases, they can override our DNA.
Reduce Dementia Risk with Lifestyle Changes
In 2015, the landmark FINGER study was published. It explored dementia risk reduction through lifestyle changes.
The FINGER study identified specific lifestyle changes that lowered dementia risk. The lifestyle changes were related to nutrition, physical activity, and mental activity.
This study focused on individuals over the age of 60 who were cognitively well. The participants in the study reduced dementia risk by making lifestyle changes. They increased both their physical and mental activity. And they paid attention to what they ate.
As well, those who increased their mental activity saw improvements in executive functioning.
This was good news for healthy seniors. The study highlighted the ability to change dementia risk with positive lifestyle changes.
Starting Earlier Matters
A second study, called the MAPT study, did not have the same positive results as the FINGER study. But the senior population in the MAPT study had two major differences.
In the MAPT study participants were 10 to 15 years older than in the FINGER study. As well, they were all frail. Their frailty was the factor which brought them into the MAPT study.
Being older and already frail, limits the impact of lifestyle change. Thus, starting earlier on dementia prevention has a more positive long-term effect. Being proactive should be part of your wellness strategy for aging.
Starting earlier on dementia prevention is a conclusion we can draw. Waiting until you are frail to make lifestyle changes is too late. So be proactive.
The Genetic Factor
Individuals with the APOE 4 gene were another interesting aspect of the FINGER study.
The APOE 4 gene is a gene variant that predisposes an individual to develop Alzheimer’s disease. The disease develops at a 3 to 8 times greater rate than those who do not have the gene variant.
The FINGER study looked at individuals with the gene variant and those without. They compared the impact of exercise on outcomes. Individuals who have the APOE 4 gene and exercise have better outcomes. This is true even when compared with those who do not have the APOE 4 gene and do not exercise. Exercise seems to prevent the APOE 4 gene from triggering the disease.
Fear Can Make You Focus
In my experience fear is a motivating factor. Taking care of our brain and heart through exercise and good nutrition is important. But we find it hard to change an accumulated series of bad habits.
A triggering event can provide the motivation to change. A heart attack may help us change our bad habits. So too can the discovery that you have the APOE 4 gene. A predisposition for dementia can motivate you to improve your health choices.
The major takeaway from these trials is that genes are not your destiny.
Even a gene variant that predisposes you to Alzheimer’s disease does not mean this is your fate. The FINGER study shows that you are not predestined towards this outcome.