Q: My 89-year-old mother passed away after having Alzheimer’s disease for about seven years. I’m 59, and I’m scared that I’m going to develop it and so will my kids. Is there anything we can do to reduce our risk?
Karen B., Stillwater, Okla.
A: We’re sorry for your loss, but there’s good news about avoiding Alzheimer’s. True, early-onset Alzheimer’s seems to be familial; if a parent has the gene associated with early-onset before age 50, a child has a 50-50 chance of developing it. But your mom had late-onset. Researchers have not found a specific gene associated with it in a very high percentage of cases and think that it arises from a combination of factors.
A new study in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry has identified nine risky conditions for Alzheimer’s (all modifiable, great news!) and several high-grade ways to protect yourself from developing the disease (great news, again!).
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The modifiable risk factors are: obesity; current smoking (in this study they saw the risk in Asians, but we feel pretty sure that it applies to most folks); carotid artery narrowing (that’s plaque in arteries on each side of your neck leading to the brain); Type 2 diabetes (in the Asian population, which again would seem possible that this inflammatory condition ups everyone’s risk); low educational attainment; high levels of homocysteine (that’s a marker of inflammation); depression; high blood pressure; and frailty.
Fortunately, we know that getting 30-60 minutes of physical activity a day and 30 minutes of strength-building exercise two to three days a week, ditching the Five Food Felons, sleeping seven to eight hours a night, destressing and enjoying friends, family, love and sex can help banish those brain-bashing risk factors.
Other ways to lower your risk? The study found that estrogen, statins, antihypertension drugs and NSAIDs, as well as folate, vitamins C and E, and coffee all help stave off the disease.
If you and your kids embrace smart nutrition, physical activity and stress reduction, don’t smoke and take heart medications if prescribed, you’ll be following the blueprint for brain health and a long and happy life.
Q: I hear that 3D printers can make prescription medications. Is there any way this technology can bring down the ridiculous cost of meds here in the U.S.?
Charlie H., Detroit
A: Sorry, Charlie, you’re not going to be able to print out your own drugs anytime soon, and here’s why. You can bet your bottom dollar that pharmaceutical companies have been in front of this technology for some time. They spend hundreds of millions of dollars every year to develop new medications, so they’re not about to let someone come in and just copy their latest innovation. And they’ve shown no inclination to make drug prices reflect the true cost of producing or sustaining them. Take the cost of the new hepatitis C meds that come in at upward of $1,000 a pill and are costing Medicare billions of dollars.
But one pharmaceutical company (Aprecia) recently has used 3D printing and its own proprietary technology (called ZipDose) to improve their delivery system of a basic antiepileptic drug. It’s the first 3D oral medication approved by the Food and Drug Administration and should be out next year.
They developed it primarily for kids and the elderly, who have a hard time swallowing pills that they need to take every day. The technology allows the pill to dissolve on the tongue with a glass of water. It’s what the company calls “a porous formulation ... that disintegrates rapidly.” No muss, no fuss, and down the hatch it goes. Pretty cool stuff.
But complex chemical compounds don’t always lend themselves to this technology (it works kind of like the old ink jet printers that ran back and forth across the page, laying down layer after layer of ink.) So it remains to be seen what other meds can be produced this way. As amazing as it sounds, this technology isn’t anywhere close to a Star Trek-style replicator. Not yet anyway.
Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. Email your health and wellness questions to Dr. Oz and Dr. Roizen at firstname.lastname@example.org.