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An assistant professor of biology has linked the brain disease to eating habits and exercise.
Tuesday, October 15, 2013
Even if you’re 80 or older, it’s not too late for daily exercise to reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, according to a study published last year in the peer-reviewed journal Neurology.
Although scientists aren’t sure how to explain the link, researchers have said engaging one’s brain in mentally stimulating activities, spending time in social groups and eating healthier can reduce your risk.
In 2009, a paper in the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that people eating a so-called Mediterranean diet and exercising regularly were at lower risk — by as much as 50 percent.
The idea that this type of evidence suggests people who make a habit of exercising or eating healthy are less likely to get Alzheimer’s — a brain disease that saps away not just memories but, gradually, identity — is the cornerstone of research by Gary Isaacs, an assistant professor of biology at Liberty University and recent recipient of the 2013-14 Alzheimer’s and Related Diseases Research Award Fund.
Isaacs received $40,000 from the fund to continue his efforts in understanding how to prevent the disease, bringing his research total to $90,000 since coming to LU in 2009.
“Science and a lot of the technology that really gets to the answer quickly and efficiently, that technology many times is just expensive,” Isaacs said. “There are a lot of consumables, when you’re conducting research, and someone has to pay that bill.”
The crux of his studies has to do with how the control of genes plays an important role in the development of the disease. Some diseases are caused by a genetic mutation, or permanent change in one or more specific genes. If a person inherits, for instance, a genetic mutation that causes a certain disease, then he or she usually will get the disease.
Sickle cell anemia, cystic fibrosis, and early-onset familial Alzheimer’s are examples of inherited genetic disorders. But Isaacs is discovering there’s no proof one particular gene causes Alzheimer’s.
“Even though there are some cases of the disease, where you can find a gene that’s messed up, that’s mutated, and they have that disease, you’re talking about that representing less than 10 percent of the cases,” he said. “It tells us mutations, alone, don’t really describe this disease.”
Isaacs hopes to show a pattern that may prove many diseases are a result of changes in the chemical modifications of a person’s DNA, which, he said, can be altered based on forming better eating habits and watching stress levels.
David DeWitt, who began studying the disease in 1991 and is the chairman of Liberty’s Department of Biology & Chemistry, seems pleased with his former student’s progress in the field of research.
“What’s especially exciting about Isaacs’ work is he has a potential link between diet and the regulation of genes,” he said. “This is some of the most exciting research in Alzheimer’s that I’ve seen in a long time.”
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