Neurologists explain Chris Hemsworth’s ‘shocking’ Alzheimer’s news

Theo Wargo

Chris Hemsworth revealed on Friday that he has two genes that put him at a much higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease than the average person, but neurologists told The Daily Beast that’s not necessarily a cause for concern.

The revelation came during a recent episode of Hemsworth’s National Geographic series no limitsis streaming on Disney+, which it claims offers “fascinating insights into how we can all unlock our body’s superpowers to fight disease, perform better, and even reverse the aging process.”

In the fifth episode, titled “Memory,” Dr. Peter Attia tells the Australian actor that he has two copies of the APOE4 gene, one from his mother and one from his father. Attia says this increases the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s disease by up to 10 times compared to the average person. Hemsworth is seen to react somberly to the news as he adjusts his posture and focuses intently on the doctor’s words. During a confession that was filmed afterwards, he says he was “down to earth”.

The information was apparently so sensitive that Attia called her no limits Darren Aronofsky’s creator told him he’d rather break the news in private than on camera, Hemsworth said Vanity Fairadding that the whole thing was “very shocking”.

Only about 2 to 3 percent of people have both copies of the gene, says Dr. Corinne Pettigrew, lead outreach, recruitment, and engagement at the Alzheimer’s Research Center at Johns Hopkins.

And that doesn’t mean Hemsworth is guaranteed to get sick.

For beginners, a crash course on genetics may be useful. The Apolipoprotein E gene, or APOE, tells your body how to make the protein of the same name, which helps metabolize fats and transport cholesterol in the body. The gene comes in different forms, or alleles, APOE2, APOE3, and APOE4.

The APOE4 gene carries the “worst possible risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease,” says Dr. Lawrence S. Honig, MD, professor of neuroscience at Columbia University and director of the New York State Center of Excellence for Alzheimer’s Disease.

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“It’s true that having one or two APOE4 increases risk, but it’s not conclusive, so we don’t usually find it useful to test it except in a research setting,” Honig tells The Daily Beast.

Honig and Sam Gandy, professor of neuroscience and director of the Mount Sinai Center for Cognitive Health, stress that there is a good segment of Alzheimer’s patients—anywhere from a third to a half—that have no APOE4 genes at all.

“Not everyone who has two copies of Alzheimer’s will develop Alzheimer’s disease,” says Gandhi. There are rare people who escape from it. Diet and lifestyle are important.”

It is also important to counteract the worst effects of the gene, which some seem to have in greater quantities than others. “They could be carrying what we call resilience genes,” says Gandhi.

While the exact link between APOE4 and Alzheimer’s disease has not been proven, studies show links between the gene and the accumulation of amyloid plaques and tau “tangles,” both of which are widely considered markers of Alzheimer’s disease. The gene also disrupts the blood-brain barrier. It is important for the proteins in the blood to separate from the proteins in the brain. Gandhi explains that people with this gene have a leaky blood-brain barrier. In addition, APOE4 is supposed to make the protein that helps carry cholesterol. Myelin, the insulating layer that allows nerve cells to develop electrical properties to communicate with each other, requires a lot of cholesterol. Gandhi says the gene may “impair” the amount of cholesterol myelin receives. The fourth link is that the APOE4 genes stimulate inflammation.

But because the disease is so closely linked to your genetic makeup, Honig doesn’t want to recommend that anyone take a test like the one Hemsworth did.

“What is he supposed to do with this information?” Honig says. “The answer is that he can’t do much with that information, because he doesn’t know if he’s going to get this disease or not, and we don’t have a clear way to prevent Alzheimer’s disease at this time.”

Pettigrew agrees. While estimates have been seen saying that the risk for patients with two APOE4 alleles is 10 times greater than for people without these alleles, “there is nothing we can do at this point in time, that we know of, that will definitely stop or prevent dementia.”

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As for Hemsworth, Marvel’s superstar ox Privileged, the news that he carries two APOE4 alleles was very touching considering his grandfather is currently living with the incurable disease.

“I’m not sure he actually remembers much anymore and he slips in and out of Dutch, which is his native language, so he’ll speak Dutch and English and then mixed and then maybe some other new words too,” the 39-year-old said. Vanity Fair.

Hemsworth says the news, and the show in general, has forced him to reckon with his lifestyle and take a step back. He now plans to end his remaining contracts and take “a big vacation and streamline it.”

Finally, doctors agree that positive lifestyle changes such as eating a heart-healthy diet, exercise, and regular social interaction can help a person avoid the worst effects of Alzheimer’s and other dementia-related diseases, even when the risks seem high.

“Even if you can push it back by 10, that’s a massive increase in the cognitive and functional time that you have,” says Pettigrew.

Honig adds that some of the drugs currently being worked on also offer some hope. One drug in particular shows that people with APOE4 can benefit the most from using it.

“Having APOE4s — one or two — increases the amount of amyloid protein in the brain in general, but also in the blood vessels,” Honig says. “If you have more amyloid, the antibodies give you more side effects, but in the same way that you get the side effects, it could mean that the antibody works better on the amyloid.”

There is hope, but until these drugs are more thoroughly researched and reach a broader market, “you’re kind of stuck with your genes,” Honig says.

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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