A specific gene variant dramatically increases the risk of Alzheimer’s in women, according to a new study out of Stanford University.

Alzheimer’s Research

As the prevalence of Alzheimer’s continues to rise amidst increasing life spans, testing of the disease and any significant risk factors has become a priority of many researchers.

The desire to find useful indicators of the disease is at the forefront of many studies as scientists strive to discover an effective course of prevention, treatment, or a cure. Researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine dove deeper into the genetic side of Alzheimer’s disease to determine the impact that a certain gene variant has on the risk of Alzheimer’s in an individual.

Gene Variant and Risk

The gene variant ApoE4 is one of three ApoE gene variants alzheimer'sthat are protein recipes vital to the transportation of fatty substances throughout the human body. The connection between the brain and fatty substances is not unknown: the brain depends on them for proper functionality.

The three ApoE gene variants arrange those fatty substances in different ways, and the subsequent effect on the brain is significant. According to the Stanford research, most people carry two copies of ApoE3, while approximately one in five people carry at least one of the ApoE4 gene variants. Studies have found that individuals with one copy of the ApoE4 variant have two or four times the risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Those with two copies have ten times the risk.

Researchers at Stanford were interested in the difference in effect of this gene variant between men and women. They analyzed data on more than 8,000 older individuals who had been tracked over time at various Alzheimer’s facilities across the country and noted whether or not each patient progressed from good health to mild cognitive impairment. They also tracked whether or not from there, the patient began to develop Alzheimer’s or was diagnosed with full blown Alzheimer’s later on. 5,000 people studied had normal test results at the outset of the study and another 2,200 showed signs of mild cognitive impairment at the beginning. Researchers found that the ApoE4 gene increased the risk of Alzheimer’s in both groups, but the effect was much more pronounced in women.

Awareness of Risk

Women with the gene variant had nearly double the risk of Alzheimer’s compared to those who didn’t have it. The risk was only marginally higher for men. Researchers then looked at 1,000 patient records of individuals who had biomarkers from spinal fluid tested. These samples confirmed the effect that ApoE4 has on the risk of developing Alzheimer’s. The National Institutes of Health and the JNA Foundation funded the Stanford study.

1 in 8 Americans over the age of 65 currently has Alzheimer’s, and the number of individuals with the disease is expected to more than double from 5 million to 15 million by 2050. As we live longer, our chances of developing some sort of cognitive impairment increases, leaving us at risk of diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and other types of dementia.

Studies like this provide possible paths of recourse that could help provide people with awareness of their increased risk and possibly prevent it through healthy behaviors like exercise, brain activities, socialization, and remaining generally engaged in their life. Read more about ways to help prevent dementia through diet, exercise, and a low stress lifestyle, or find out more about the link between dementia and long term care here.