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Genetic Testing, Part II: Julie’s Story

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Dr. Deborah Gordon.WELLNESSIn last month’s column I suggested that people obtain their genetic information by sending in their saliva (and $199) to 23andMe.com, and thereby gain access to a wealth of genetic information. I said I would share the story of one particular woman this month. Her name is Julie and she is the poster child for reversing Alzheimer’s disease with a program particularly tailored to people who carry a copy of the ApoE4 gene.

We all have two ApoE genes and about 80% of us have two copies of the ApoE 3 gene, so we are called ApoE3/3. Our risk of Alzheimer’s disease is about 1 in 9. One quarter of us are unlucky enough to have a single copy of ApoE4 and are thus considered ApoE3/4; our Alzheimer’s risk goes up to 1 in 3. Two percent of us are ApoE4/4 and have greater than a 90 percent chance of getting Alzheimer’s.  Julie learned she was ApoE4/4 just before turning 50.

She realized she already had signs of memory loss: not recognizing people who seemed to know her, getting lost in familiar places. She had a hard time with simple skills: remembering the date, writing out the dollar amount on a check. She drove with a post-it note on her dashboard, “stay in right lane.”

In 2012 she sought help from the Alzheimer’s Foundation and a local neurologist, wondering if there were any interventions that could reverse her disease. No solutions to be found on the website, and the neurologist said to her, “Good luck with that.” (One of my pet peeves, when I talk about nutritional interventions to reverse disease is that I find this information in published medical research. Incredulous doctors might be a bit more curious about the existing research.)

Julie did her own research and changed her life. She cut out sugars, grains and all processed foods. She boosted her fish and vegetable intake and began tracking brain-related lab tests. She added supplements, planned her sleep and exercised regularly.

After a few months, she began to recognize people more, and developed the ability to read medical journals so she could pursue her research. She did brain training through an internet program and increased her score from the 30th to the 90th percentile for her age. She added bio-identical hormone replacement therapy and by six months on the program, she realized that all her efforts were enabling her to feel stronger and healthier than she had in her entire life.

Unbeknownst to her, Julie was following the protocol Dr. Dale Bredesen had devised in 30 years of dementia research. He compares Alzheimer’s disease to a roof with 36 leaky holes: you need to plug most of the holes, different holes for different folks, and the brain changes can actually reverse themselves. I was fascinated by reports of his work and signed up for his first clinicians’ conference at the Buck Institute in August of this year. Julie was one of the presenters: no one could have ever guessed that she herself once had significant memory loss.

She offered special expertise for those who have the ApoE4 gene, advice which is largely helpful for any Alzheimer’s patient but takes some special tweaking for ApoE4. For anyone, but especially an ApoE4 carrier, dementia risks include a history of head injuries, any food sensitivity, early menopause for women, and a tendency to insulin resistance and pre-diabetes, whether they are skinny or overweight.

Julie collates information from other ApoE4 success stories on her website ApoE4.info, including advice that corresponds well with that of Dr. Bredesen. Fast for 15 hours or longer a day, go a little low on calories, exercise, keep saturated fats low (not necessary for ApoE3 folks with Alzheimer’s), and keep your stress levels in control. A host of supplements, targeted by specific lab tests and personal considerations, round out a program which has to be followed several months before any results are seen; a program that has to be followed for a lifetime to retain the improvements.

Read more of Dr. Deborah’s healthy insights at www.DrDeborahMD.com.

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