Thursday, April 26, 2012

Parkinson's and Stress

The cost of any neurodegenerative disease to patients, caregivers, families, and society has been well documented.  Obviously, we are talking about emotional impact as well as financial.  The University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine published information describing the size of the problem relating to the volume and cost of brain diseases and injuries.  The current cost was estimated to be about $600 billion per year.  For Alzheimer's alone, the American Health Assistance Foundation states that "over 5 million (5.4 million) Americans age 65 and older are thought to have Alzheimer’s disease. By 2050, the number of Americans with this disease could increase to over 15 million.  The national cost of Alzheimer’s disease (in people over 65 years old) was $183 billion in 2011, and by 2050 it will be $1.1 trillion."  Without question, the size of the problem is enormous.

One of the contributing factors, and possibly one of the key factors, that is being talked about currently is stress.  A 2011 article on the Scientific American website titled "Neurostress: How Stress May Fuel Neurodegenerative Diseases" discusses stress as a causative factor.  My personal opinion is that stress in all it's forms deserves more attention.  

Clearly, stress is part of our everyday lives at work or play.  Not all stress is bad.  However, based on the personality, tolerance level, and genetic background of individuals, stress can create cellular "oxidative stress" and "inflammation" that has been linked to many different types of diseases, including the neurodegenerative variety.  A 2012 paper published on the Intech website provides a good explanation.  We have been hearing for a long time about the dangers of free radicals and the benefits of anti-oxidants.  I am not going to recommend a particular strategy for supplementing the body's natural ability to produce anti-oxidants, however I would like to call attention to genetic factors that vary between individuals and are worth knowing about.

Information regarding genetic risk factors related to Alzheimer's is available on the National Institute of Health's National Institute on Aging website, which states: "increased risk is related to the apolipoprotein E (APOE) gene found on chromosome 19. APOE contains the instructions for making a protein that helps carry cholesterol and other types of fat in the bloodstream. APOE comes in several different forms, or alleles. Three forms—APOE ε2, APOE ε3, and APOE ε4—occur most frequently.
  • APOE ε2 is relatively rare and may provide some protection against the disease. If Alzheimer's disease occurs in a person with this allele, it develops later in life than it would in someone with the APOE ε4 gene.
  • APOE ε3, the most common allele, is believed to play a neutral role in the disease—neither decreasing nor increasing risk.
  • APOE ε4 is present in about 25 to 30 percent of the population and in about 40 percent of all people with late-onset Alzheimer's. People who develop Alzheimer's are more likely to have an APOE ε4 allele than people who do not develop the disease."
If you have a family history of neurodegenerative disease, It may be a good idea to find out if you have the APOE4 gene from both parents.  Testing is currently available but not routine.  It is likely to be much more accessible in the future.  If you are at risk, you have the opportunity to adjust your lifestyle, diet, and make other changes to reduce the risk.

Other potential sources of stress we all live with may include (I don't have anything to back these up, but it makes sense to me):
  • anything ingested into the body including water and other liquids and food
  • the air we breath
  • smoking
  • pollution
  • exposure to or ingestion of toxins including pesticides (not sure if alcohol should be included in this category, but it seems likely)
  • excess weight
  • overall health
So all of these factors that are part of life as we know it can increase our chances of being diagnosed with any number of diseases.  Each of us had the opportunity to learn as much as we can that will enable us to make informed choices to safeguard our own health as well as the health of our families.

I can't help but think that this subject provides an opportunity to think about, not only what factors contribute to symptoms related to various conditions, but also what are the root causes behind these problems.  Perhaps at some point we will need to examine our priorities as individuals, couples, and families and make some tough decisions regarding wants vs. needs, what we do for a living, where we live, what we eat and drink, how we relax, and more.  It is natural to be lulled into complacency by a sense that we do not have choices.  The truth is that, for most of us, society, our neighbors, our friends, TV advertising, and more establish the constraints we choose to live within.  I am as guilty as the next person, but at least I am aware to some degree of the danger.  Maybe we all are.  Something to think about in your spare time. 

1 comment:

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