Neurologists Explain Chris Hemsworth’s ‘Shocking’ Alzheimer’s

Chris Hemsworth revealed Friday that he has two genes that put him at much higher risk of Alzheimer disease than the average person, but neuroscientists tell The Daily Beast that’s not necessarily cause for alarm.

the revelation came during a recent episode of Hemsworth’s National Geographic series Unlimitedairing on Disney+, which claims to offer “fascinating insights into how we can all unlock our bodies’ superpowers to fight disease, perform better and even reverse the aging process.”

In episode five, titled “Memory,” Dr. Peter Attia tells the Australian actor that he has two copies of the APOE4 gene, one from his mum and one from his dad. This, Attia says, makes you up to 10 times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s compared to the average person. Hemsworth is seen having a somber reaction to the news as he adjusts his stance and focuses intently on the doctor’s words. During a filmed confessional afterwards, he says he was “stunned.”

Apparently, the information was so sensitive that Attia called Unlimited Darren Aronofsky to tell him he would prefer to break the news in private rather than on camera, Hemsworth said. vanity fairadding that it was all “pretty shocking.”

Only about 2 to 3 percent of people have both copies of the gene, says Dr. Corinne Pettigrew, leader of outreach, recruitment and engagement at the Johns Hopkins Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center.

And it doesn’t mean Hemsworth is guaranteed to develop the disease.

For starters, a crash course in the gene might be helpful. The gene for apolipoprotein E, or APOE, tells your body how to make the protein of the same name, which helps metabolize fat and transport cholesterol through your body. The gene comes in variations, or alleles, APOE2, APOE3, and APOE4.

The APOE4 gene carries the “worst possible risk of Alzheimer’s disease,” says Lawrence S Honig, MD, professor of neurology at Columbia University and director of the New York State Center of Excellence for Alzheimer’s Disease.

“It’s true that having one or two APOE4s increases risk, but it’s not determinative, so we generally don’t find it useful to test it, except in a research setting,” Honig tells The Daily Beast.

Both Honig and Sam Gandy, professor of neurology and director of the Mount Sinai Center for Cognitive Health, emphasize that a good portion of Alzheimer’s patients, between a third and a half, do not have APOE4 genes at all.

“Not everyone with two copies develops Alzheimer’s disease,” says Gandy. “There are rare people who escape. Diet and lifestyle are important.”

Also important is resistance to the worst effects of the gene, which some seem to possess in greater numbers than others. “They could have what we call resilience genes,” says Gandy.

While the exact connection between APOE4 and Alzheimer’s disease has not been established, studies show links between the gene and the buildup of amyloid plaques and tau “tangles,” both of which are widely considered telltale signs of Alzheimer’s disease. The gene also disrupts the blood-brain barrier. “It is important that the proteins in the blood are separated from the proteins in the brain. People with this gene have a leaky blood-brain barrier,” explains Gandy. Also, APOE4 is supposed to create the protein that helps transport cholesterol. Myelin, an insulating layer that allows nerve cells to develop electrical properties to communicate with each other, requires a lot of cholesterol. The gene can “impair” the amount of cholesterol that myelin receives, Gandy says. A fourth connection is that APOE4 genes stimulate inflammation.

But since the disease is so tied to his genetic makeup, Honig is reluctant to recommend anyone get a test like the one Hemsworth did.

“What are you supposed to do with that information?” Honig says. “The answer is that you can’t do much with that information, because you don’t know whether or not you’ll get Alzheimer’s disease, and we don’t have a clear way to prevent Alzheimer’s disease at this time.”

Pettigrew agrees. While he has seen estimates that the risk for patients with two APOE4 alleles is 10 times higher than for people without them, “there is nothing we can do at this time, that we know of, that will definitely stop or prevent dementia”.

For Hemsworth, the Marvel star thor franchise, the news that he carried two APOE4 alleles was all the more poignant considering that his grandfather is currently living with the incurable disease.

“I’m not sure he actually remembers much more and he speaks and speaks Dutch, which is his original language, so he’ll be speaking Dutch and English and then a mix and then maybe some other new words as well. the 39-year-old said. vanity fair.

Hemsworth says the news and the show in general forced him to reckon with his lifestyle and take a step back. He now plans to finish his remaining contracts and take a “piece of time off and just simplify.”

Overall, doctors agree that positive lifestyle changes, such as a heart-healthy diet, exercise, and regular social interaction, can help someone avoid the worst effects of Alzheimer’s and other related diseases. with dementia, even when the risk seems high.

“Even if you can put it off for 10 years, that’s a huge increase in the cognitive and functional time you have,” says Pettigrew.

Honig adds that some of the drugs being worked on right now also offer some hope. One drug in particular shows that people with APOE4 might benefit more from its use.

“Having APOE4, one or two, increases the amount of amyloid protein in the brain in general, but also in the blood vessels,” says Honig. “If you have more amyloid, the antibodies give you more side effects, but in the same way that you have the side effects, it may mean that the antibody works better on the amyloid.”

There is hope, but until these drugs are further researched and reach a broader market, “you’re kind of stuck with your genes,” Honig says.

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