For world-famous actor Chris Hemsworth, Alzheimer’s has become a significant concern in the last year. While the Marvel superstar hasn’t received an official diagnosis of the condition, he has discovered he has a greater risk of Alzheimer’s than others, thanks to DNA testing.
Working on the National Geographic docuseries, Limitless, created to explore the concept of human longevity and health, Hemsworth underwent a multitude of tests. During one episode, a full blood panel looking at Hemsworth’s DNA markers revealed that he has a genetic vulnerability to Alzheimer’s disease, caused by the presence of two copies of the APOE4 gene.
The revelation has prompted Hemsworth to temporarily step out of the spotlight and focus on his family, health, and other aspects of his life for a while. Learning that he carries two copies of the Alzheimer’s gene in his DNA has also pushed him to share his discoveries with the world, to help promote Alzheimer’s awareness. Hemsworth wants to bring awareness to the impact genetic components can have on disease risk connected with cognitive decline.
Chris Hemsworth Alzheimer’s Risk: The Genetic Factors
Chris Hemsworth discovered his genetic predisposition to Alzheimer’s disease within the fifth episode of Limitless. The episode entitled “Memory” followed Hemsworth undergoing a barrage of tests to explore his cognitive abilities, and the potential risks he may face later in life. According to Hemsworth, the plan was to have the doctor reveal the results of the examinations to him on camera.
However, the care professional approached Hemsworth and told him he needed to discuss the issue with him in private. While the revelation was included in the show, Hemsworth’s doctor approached him first to explain the meaning of his discovery.
The blood panels conducted revealed Chis Hemsworth’s Alzheimer’s risk was greater than most, due to the presence of two copies of the APOE4 gene in his DNA. One copy came from his father, and the other from his mother. The presence of a single version of this gene increases a person’s risk of Alzheimer’s, and around one in four people carry a copy.
However, possessing two copies of the gene increases his risk of Alzheimer’s significantly, by around 15%. According to a study by the National Institutes of Health, only approximately 2-3% of the population will have two copies of the APOE4 gene in their DNA like Chris Hemsworth does. This means that it was very significant news for Hemsworth to learn this.
The APOE protein is responsible for managing the metabolism of cholesterol in the body, and repairing neurons in the brain. The protein also performs various other functions, including binding with beta-amyloid, a substance which contributes to the formation of brain-based plaques associated with Alzheimer’s disease. The mutated version of the gene, APOE4, can increase lipid build-up in the body, and increase the risk of damage to the brain.
While the impact of the APOE4 gene on brain health still isn’t fully understood, researchers believe a copy of this gene can significantly increase a person’s chances of suffering from dementia, and diseases related to cognitive decline, such as Alzheimer’s disease.
Does the APOE4 Gene Guarantee an Alzheimer’s Diagnosis?
Chris Hemsworth’s Alzheimer’s discovery has brought increased attention to the impact genetics can have on one’s future brain health, and a person’s risk of cognitive ailments.
However, it’s worth noting that the presence of the APOE4 gene (or even two copies of it) does not guarantee a person will be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at any point in their lives. Yes, the risk increases, but the disease may not develop.
While the genetic factor increases risk, there are still preventative measures a person can take to protect their brain health, and minimize their chances of getting the disease.
According to the Lancet Commission there are approximately 12 risk factors which can influence a person’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease which can all be altered. For instance, factors such as smoking, obesity, excessive alcohol consumption and air pollution can all contribute to an increased Alzheimer’s risk. These 12 changeable factors account for about 40% of dementia cases worldwide.
As such, even a person with a genetic predisposition to Alzheimer’s can still potentially avoid the disease, by pursuing a healthy lifestyle. One Finnish study involving individuals with the APOE4 gene even found a healthy diet, careful management of vascular risk factors, and regular exercise all helped to reduce cognitive decline.
In other words, while for some of us, our genes may increase our risk of developing specific health conditions, learning about your risk factors as early as possible can help you to take the right steps to protect yourself.
For instance, people with the APOE4 gene in their DNA can reduce their risk by:
· Quitting smoking and cutting down on alcohol consumption
· Reducing exposure to sources of pollution
· Minimizing stress and taking steps to battle depression
· Working with a healthcare provider to manage inflammatory conditions
· Increasing recreational and social activities to keep the brain active, and doing brain-stimulating exercises
How Can People With the APOE4 Gene Reduce Their Risk of Alzheimer’s?
When speaking out about his genetic findings and his risk of Alzheimer’s, Hemsworth noted he hasn’t decided to resign from the acting landscape, nor is he panicking that he’ll definitely end up with an Alzheimer’s diagnosis. Rather, his discovery has prompted him to take crucial steps in protecting his health, and avoiding any risk factors which may increase his chances of cognitive decline.
Specifically, people with the APOE4 gene, and others with a higher potential risk of Alzheimer’s can improve their outlook and take preventative measures by focusing on:
Brain-Healthy Dietary Choices
The foods you eat can significantly reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s disease. With the right diet, you can ensure you’re nourishing your brain with the vitamins, minerals, and enzymes it needs to thrive. Avoiding inflammatory foods such as sugar and highly processed products can reduce the neurodegeneration which occurs with diseases like Alzheimer’s.
Furthermore, it’s worth noting that many of the chemicals involved in managing brain processes are regulated by the gut. Studies have found the composition of gut bacteria in people with Alzheimer’s is often very different. Focusing on a diet designed to balance the gut microbiome and reduce inflammation can protect both the body and the brain.
A diet rich in healthy probiotics, packed with mineral-rich vegetables and fruits, and low in fats and salts can be particularly beneficial to those with a higher genetic risk of Alzheimer’s. Many experts, including the Alzheimer’s Society, recommend a Mediterranean-style diet rich in brain-building healthy oils and low in saturated fats. Avoiding foods which can harm the brain, such as high amounts of alcohol, and red meats, can also be beneficial.
Regular Exercise and Activity (Including Brain-Stimulating Exercises)
For people like Chris Hemsworth, Alzheimer’s prevention can also involve a strong focus on regular exercise and activity, including brain-stimulating exercises.
Physical activity helps to strengthen all muscles in the body – including the brain. Strength training and aerobic exercise are particularly valuable for increasing blood flow, and reducing the risk of vascular problems in the brain.
Certain types of exercise, such as Tai Chi, have been proven to lead to significant changes in white matter formation within the brain, reducing the risk of dementia. Many forms of aerobic exercise can increase the brain’s volume, and preserve neural networks, even for people with copies of the APOE4 gene. This means staying physically active can help to protect you against dementia.
Virtually all forms of regular exercise are beneficial, from taking regular walks or cycling to work, to running, or lifting weights. Exercise also reduces your risk of other compounding issues which can contribute to the development of dementia, such as obesity.
Brain-stimulating exercises include crossword puzzles, jigsaw puzzles, and even learning a choreographed dance routine.
Improving Sleep Patterns
While diet and exercise are considered two of the most important tools in the fight against dementia, there is another factor worth considering too. For Chris Hemsworth, Alzheimer’s prevention also includes taking a new approach to sleep and recuperation.
Regularly getting a good night’s sleep is important for long-term brain health. During sleep, the brain goes through a number of processes, removing toxins and repairing cells. Getting enough sleep doesn’t just improve your mood, it can also help to keep your brain healthy. When you get a good night’s sleep, you’re allowing your brain to eliminate toxic particles which can build up throughout the day, minimizing mental degradation.
While the brain is constantly detoxing itself, even when you’re awake, studies show during sleep, the brain’s ability to remove toxic components increases by around 60%. Crucially, however, getting too much sleep can be as problematic as not getting enough. Excessive sleep can also cause damage to the brain and mood, so it’s important to find your sweet spot for a good night’s rest.
Most people will benefit from getting around 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night.
Learning from Chris Hemsworth’s Genetic Discovery
For Chris Hemsworth, Alzheimer’s prevention is now an important part of living a healthy, happy life. While the actor hasn’t been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, his discovery of his genetic risk factors that make him more predisposed to dementia have allowed him to make important changes to his lifestyle.
Hemsworth’s story teaches us just how important it can be to understand the genetic risk factors which can influence your long-term health and longevity. Using your CircleDNA test, you can find out if you carry genetic mutations or genetic copies that increase your risk of any health conditions. You’ll learn more about which genetic factors might increase your chances of different health conditions, which is very helpful information to find out.
Once you have this information, you can follow in Hemsworth’s footsteps, by taking preventative measures, and adjusting your lifestyle to protect your future health.
- NIA: Alzheimer's Disease Genetics Fact Sheet
- NIH: Study reveals how APOE4 gene may increase risk for dementia
- The Lancet: Dementia prevention, intervention, and care: 2020 report of the Lancet Commission
- JAMA: Effect of the Apolipoprotein E Genotype on Cognitive Change During a Multidomain Lifestyle Intervention
- BMJ: Gut microbiota regulate Alzheimer’s disease pathologies and cognitive disorders via PUFA-associated neuroinflammation
https://gut.bmj.com/content/71/11/2233#:~:text=Our findings suggest that the,treating brain disorders including AD.
- Alzheimers: Mediterranean diet and dementia
- NCBI: Tai Chi Training Evokes Significant Changes in Brain White Matter Network in Older Women
- MDPI: Sleep as a Novel Biomarker and a Promising Therapeutic Target for Cerebral Small Vessel Disease: A Review Focusing on Alzheimer’s Disease and the Blood-Brain Barrierhttps://www.mdpi.com/1422-0067/21/17/6293#:~:text=However%2C%20during%20deep%20sleep%20the,%2Damyloid%20(A%20%CE%B2%20).