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There is no definitive blood test to determine if you or a family member has Alzheimer’s disease. But, some new tests look promising.

A hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is the buildup of sticky beta-amyloid plaques in the victim’s brain. A PET brain scan can visualize these plaques, but brain scans are expensive, and many people find the procedure claustrophobic. Also, brain scans only pick up advanced stages of AD. Soon, you’ll be able to take a simple blood test that will confirm if your brain has plaques that lead to Alzheimer’s disease.

One test in development by Randall Bateman, M.D., a professor of neurology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, looks promising. This blood test measures levels of three types of beta-amyloid as a sign of plaque formation in the brain. The Bateman test is about 86% accurate.

Another new test, under development at UCSF Geriatric Research Center in San Francisco, can predict AD 10 years before symptoms occur. And, it’s 100% accurate. The test’s biomarker is type-1insulin receptor substrate (IRS-1), a protein that plays a role in how insulin triggers signals in the brain. Insulin resistance is associated with type II diabetes, increased risk for cardiovascular disease, and AD.

And, a test in development at the University of Otago in New Zealand looks at microRNAs common to both brain and blood. Researchers found that levels of this marker were different in AD patients. Accuracy for this test is 86%.

Doctors already use gene testing to determine a person’s risk for Alzheimer’s disease. APOE provides instructions for making a protein called apolipoprotein E that combines with fats to form lipoproteins. Lipoproteins are responsible for packaging cholesterol and other fats and carrying them through the bloodstream. Maintaining normal levels of cholesterol is essential for the prevention of cardiovascular disease, including heart attack and stroke. The theory is: what’s good for the heart is good for the head.

There are at least three slightly different versions, called alleles, of the APOE gene. The dominant alleles are labeled E2, E3, and E4. The most common allele, E3, occurs in more than half of the population. Those with the E2 allele have lower LDL cholesterol. APOE 3 provides neutral risk. People with APOE 4 have a higher risk for making amyloid plaques in their brain. Those with APOE 4 also tend to have higher cholesterol levels.

The only way to prevent and slow the progression—and in some cases reverse AD—is by regular exercise and a healthy diet that lowers total cholesterol and LDL. But, scientists are unsure which diet makes the most positive changes in APOE levels.

A 2016 study focused on the high fat ketogenic diet. Though eating too many fatty foods increased cholesterol levels, researchers found lower APOE levels in the hippocampus, one of the main areas to suffer damage in AD patients.

I advise patients with APOE4 to lower their LDL cholesterol by reducing saturated fats, increasing olive and avocado oil, and not to take too much fish oil, avoid coconut oil, and reduce alcohol consumption. The Mediterranean diet helps prevent cardiovascular disease and is linked to lower AD risk.

Tests for APOE genotyping are available from LabCorp and other diagnostic testing laboratories. Consumer gene testing services like 23andMe provide APOE testing. Though APOE4 is associated with an increased risk for AD, many people who carry APOE4 do not develop AD. And, 30-50% of those with AD don’t have APOE4.

If you knew that you had a high risk for AD, would you be motivated to live a healthy lifestyle? Maybe. We know that smoking cigarettes can cause lung cancer, but most smokers don’t quit. We have accurate tests to determine diabetes, but the diabetes epidemic gets worse every year. One can only hope that AD testing will improve patient outcomes by motivating for healthier living.

Dr. J. E. Williams


Dr. Williams is a pioneer in integrative and functional medicine, the author of six books, and a practicing clinician with over 100,000 patient visits. His areas of interest include longevity and viral immunity. Formerly from San Diego, he now resides in Sarasota, Florida and practices at the Florida Integrative Medical Center. He teaches at NOVA Southeastern University and Emperor’s College of Oriental Medicine.

Visit Dr. Williams’ Website: https://drjewilliams.com/

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