Researcher presents insights into possible causes of Alzheimer's

Posted: Thursday, November 09, 2000

A free lecture Friday night will provide information to family caregivers and others who want to learn more about links between diet and Alzheimer's disease.

Grace Petot, a researcher with Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland, will present her findings from a retrospective study that examined foods eaten by 304 men and women, most in their 70s when research began in 1991. Seventy-two had Alzheimer's.

The research indicates people age 40 to 59 who carry a genetic marker called ApoE-E4-allele, and who consumed more than 40 percent of their calories from fat, were nearly 30 times more at risk for developing Alzheimer's than those who ate high-fat foods but did not carry the marker.

In people ages 20 to 39, the combination of the genetic marker and a high-fat diet increased the risk of Alzheimer's almost 23 times.

Petot will discuss lifestyle risk factors and the development of Alzheimer's and related dementia at 7 p.m. in the Bartlett Regional Hospital Administration Building.

"No one has considered until very recently that diet might have anything to do with dementia or Alzheimer's," Petot said. "It's a clinical epidemiological study in which we look at lifestyle factors including diet, and we use control subjects. We also look at activities and exposures since the subjects were in their 20s until they were diagnosed."

Eight to 14 percent of the U.S. population has the gene, she said.

"But it's not ethical to tell people they have the gene because you can't do anything about it. We tell people about cystic fibrosis, Huntington's disease and Tay Sachs, but those are the only (genetic markers revealed) at this time," she said.

Petot's research is "a great study, and her specialty," said Liz Hunt, statewide outreach coordinator for the Alzheimer's Association's Anchorage office.

Previous studies looked at diet among family members or in cloistered populations, and had neither the broad base nor the preventive implications of Petot's study, Hunt said.

There is no known cure for Alzheimer's, which is believed to affect more than 4 million America

Hunt also pointed out that scientists have developed a vaccine that in mice appears to ward off and even reduce the brain-clogging deposits of a sticky protein called amyloid that are characteristic of the disease. It affects about 4,000 Alaskans, with about 200 in Juneau, according to Glen Ray of the local Alzheimer's Association office. Ray noted Alzheimer's affects the extended family because those with the disease are often cared for at home. He estimated an average of three additional people are directly affected by Alzheimer's for each person suffering from the disease.

The association is following Petot's lecture with two free workshops. On Nov. 14, health-care professionals will provide information on local services for home care and assisted living, as well as Medicaid and Medicare eligibility. On Nov. 15, Corrine Rago, president of Cornerstone Home Health, will present a talk on devices and supplies for at-home care. Both are at 7 p.m. in the hospital administration building. For details, call 586-6044.

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