26 September 2006

Drinking wine may up Alzheimer risk

Drinking red wine if you have risk factors or early signs of heart disease might not do you any good. In fact, if you have a certain gene, it might set the stage for Alzheimer’s.

Drinking red wine if you have risk factors or early signs of heart disease might not do you any good.

In fact, if you have a certain gene, drinking wine might set the stage for Alzheimer’s disease.

According to Dr Maritha Kotzé, managing director of GeneCare Molecular Genetics (Pty) Ltd., cardiovascular disease and Alzheimer’s disease are syndromes of ageing that share similar lesions and risk factors, involving lipoproteins, oxidative damage and inflammation.

The presence of a certain gene, however, distinguishes cardiovascular patients from one another, making it necessary to tailor dietary advice to specific individuals.

Kotzé gave a talk on Monday on cardiovascular genetic assessment and treatment to reduce the risk of heart disease and dementia at the 21st Biennial Nutrition Congress of the Nutrition Society of South Africa, which is currently taking place in Port Elizabeth.

CVD, Alzheimer’s share risk factors
Studies performed on approximately 10 000 American Californians over three decades have shown that the same risk factors that lead to the development of cardiovascular disease in middle age may significantly increase the risk of dementia in old age.

Kotzé explains that the so-called apolipoprotein E (Apo E) gene provides a genetic link between cardiovascular disease and the development of Alzheimer’s disease.

The E4 allele occurs in 30-40% of the South African population and is associated with a significant cholesterol-raising effect.

While the allele increases the risk of coronary heart disease by more than 40%, it also contributes to the development of late-onset Alzheimer’s disease in more than 50% of affected patients.

Critical to manage risk factors
Since the harmful effects of the Apo E4 allele is mediated through diet and oxidation processes, “its detection highlights the importance of alcohol restriction, smoking cessation and a healthy diet with regular intake of foods that offer neuroprotection,” Kotzé says.

Unfortunately, many physicians and dieticians still treat all middle-aged patients with risk factors or early signs of heart disease in the same way: they recommend a daily glass of red wine.

But in some of their patients – those with the Apo E4 allele – the wine may be doing more harm than good. These patients’ alcohol intake should be restricted.

“Individuals with the Apo E4 allele may not benefit from moderate alcohol consumption,” Kotzé says. “In fact, alcohol can cause serious problems in the long run.”

According to Kotzé, genetic testing may be advisable to patients with a family history of heart disease or Alzheimer’s disease, or those that are already experiencing early signs of heart disease in midlife, so that preventative steps can be taken.

- (Carine van Rooyen, September 2006)


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