Alzheimer’s, Elevated Cortisol and Your Genes
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s disease affects over five million people in the U.S. and eliminating the disease would save more than half a million lives every year. Though the exact cause of Alzheimer’s still eludes researchers, it has been linked to certain genetic factors.
Genes, Heredity and Alzheimer’s Disease
Medical News Today explains that our genes determine what we look like, how we behave and how we survive. They can make us susceptible to certain diseases and conditions, like Alzheimer’s, depending on whether we develop those conditions.
How our genes interact with each other and on environmental factors has a large role in determining if we are likely to develop the disease, as does inherited traits, according to Healthline. People whose immediate family members have Alzheimer’s have been found to be at a higher risk of developing the disease.
Scientists believe Alzheimer’s results from a combination of genetic and hereditary traits, meaning some of these factors we can change, but others, such as our genes, we cannot.
Two categories of genes that researchers have linked to Alzheimer’s:
Risk genes increase your likelihood for a disease but do not guarantee you will have it. The strongest risk gene for Alzheimer’s is called apolipoprotein E-e (APOE-e4). Studies indicate that this gene may factor into 20-25% of Alzheimer’s cases. If you inherit APOE-e4 from one parent, your risk for Alzheimer’s increases. Inheriting it from both parents makes your risks go up even higher, but it is still not a certainty.
Deterministic genes cause a disease or disorder and guarantee you will develop it if you inherit these genes. Research shows that gene variations in three proteins, amyloid precursor protein (APP), presenilin-1 (PS-1) and presenilin-2 (PS-2), will result in Alzheimer’s disease. Also called familial Alzheimer’s disease, deterministic gene variations often affect many family members in multiple generations, and symptoms typically develop before age 60. However, this form of Alzheimer’s accounts for fewer than 5% of cases.
Alzheimer’s Risk Factors You Can Change
Even if you have no family history or genetic risk of Alzheimer’s, other health issues, such as brain injury and cardiovascular disease, can increase your chances of having dementia.
For instance, your odds of having the disease increase if you suffer from:
Head trauma that results from vehicle accidents, sports injuries and falls can put you at greater risk for Alzheimer’s. Buckle your seatbelt, wear your helmet and take precautions in your home to prevent falls for you and senior loved ones.
Certain conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, high cholesterol or history of stroke may increase your chances for developing Alzheimer’s. Follow your doctor’s instructions for preventing or treating any damage to your heart or blood vessels.
Can Rhodiola Rosea Fight Alzheimer’s?
dry roots and fresh flowers of Rhodiola Rosea
The herb rhodiola rosea, native to mountainous regions of Europe, Asia and the Arctic, has shown to help reduce stress. It’s a staple of Eastern European and Scandinavian diets and is used to stimulate the nervous system, improve stamina and eliminate fatigue.
Recently, rhodiola rosea has gained notice as a potential aid for memory loss, making it the subject of studies on aging and Alzheimer’s disease and has been added to the list of herbs that promote healthy aging and may even prevent Alzheimer’s disease.
How Does Rhodiola Rosea Work?
Rhodiola rosea contains phenylpropanoids, which are believed to enhance cognitive function and have a calming effect. In addition, it contains antioxidant compounds that help prevent diseases, such as cancer and heart disease. It’s also shown to improve glycogen production and increase endurance, all beneficial during physical activity.
Scientific Research on Rhodiola Rosea
Additionally, research has shown that the herb slows the breakdown of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which is linked to memory. A proofreading study indicated that participants who took a single dose of rhodiola rosea (300 mg) significantly decreased errors compared to the control group.
Interestingly, other modern studies show that extracts of rhodiola also improve symptoms of depression, and relieve stress-induced fatigue.
Rhodiola Rosea Restores Normal Cortisol Levels
Most interesting is its mechanism of action. By modulating a stress-activated protein kinase called JNK, rhodiola restores the normal sensitivity of cortisol receptors. This was demonstrated in a 2009 Swedish placebo-controlled study. At the end of the 4-week study, participants given rhodiola had measurably lower cortisol levels than placebo, and scored better on scales of burnout and cognitive function.
Chronically elevated cortisol looks like this:
- sleep disturbance
- suppressed thyroid function, insulin resistance
- progesterone and testosterone deficiency
Elevated cortisone shrinks the hippocampus of the brain. It causes osteoporosis and immune dysfunction. If that wasn’t enough, it shortens the telomeres of our DNA, which accelerates aging.
When stress is unremitting, cortisol receptors lose sensitivity, forcing the HPA axis to pump cortisol up even higher. You can feel elevated cortisol when you’re still lying awake at 1 am, and you can see it as weight gain around the middle.
Importantly, studies have also linked elevated cortisol to an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease. For further reading, there is an interesting article from UC Irvine on the effect of stress and cortisol on Alzheimer’s risk.
Psychology Today states that over the course of a lifetime, the effects of chronic stress and cortisol can accumulate and become a risk factor for cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease. Several studies have shown that stress, and particularly one’s individual way of reacting to stress (the propensity to become “dis-stressed” often found in neurotic people for example), increases the risk for Alzheimer’s disease.
If you think your cortisol may be elevated, can measure it yourself with a simple home saliva test.
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Can Rhodiola Rosea Treat Alzheimer’s?
Promising recent studies reveal that rhodiola rosea improves memory in rats with signs of Alzheimer’s disease. Nevertheless, more studies are needed to determine whether it’s an effective treatment for severe memory loss in humans.
Researchers propose that the constituents in rhodiola and other adaptogen herbs act like mild stress-mimics. They induce stress protection mechanisms such as heat shock proteins, and modulate the HPA axis. In this way, they inoculate the body against stress, and are a type of hormesis, a biological response whereby a mild stressor (such as exercise or calorie restriction) induces a homeostatic mechanism that protects against other stressors.
In fact, Rhodiola Rosea has been associated with benefits to a number of diseases and mental health issues, so hopefully, we can expect further clinical research down the road.
It also has a generous helping of flavonoids (important antioxidant molecules), phenylpropanoids, essential oils, tannins, and many antioxidants,which protect healthy cells from the damaging effects of free radical molecules.
As an adpatogen, Rhodiola rosea allows the mind to relax even in the face of immense mental stress and other conditions which may cause volatile mental reactions. For this reason it has been a mainstay in the herbal medications of many different countries for years.
Customer reviews show that Rhodiola is extremely effective in reducing stress; it has the ability to regulate serotonin and dopamine levels, two hormones known for contributing to both mood, and a euphoric state respectively. It also holds influence over beta-endorphins. See 578 customer reviews.
More Alzheimer’s Research is Needed
Experts continue to research the complex biological and environmental factors that influence Alzheimer’s disease, but, if you are concerned about your risks, talk to your doctor about your family history and other health concerns that you may have.
Early detection is crucial to getting the maximum benefits of treatment, and it can give you more time and more say in planning for your future.
Recommended: Alzheimer’s Disease – The New Prevention Revolution
Has heredity been a factor in your loved one’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis? Please share your story in the comments below.
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