A significant motivation that inspired me to get super fit at 50 was the discovery that I have the late-onset Alzheimer’s gene.
Through genetic testing, I learned I have the Apolipoprotein E gene. Also known as APOE. More specifically, I possess two copies of the E4 variant of the APOE gene.
Higher Risk for Alzheimer’s
With two copies of the APOE E4 variant, I am in the unlucky 1.7% of the population that has, get this, an eleven times (11x) higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease.
According to recent studies, I have a 35% chance of developing Alzheimer’s by age 65 and a 45% risk of contracting the disease by age 80.
Knowing these numbers has changed my life.
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Testing for Genetic Conditions with 23andMe.com
It all started about three years ago when I did a genetic test using 23andme. For about $200 and a vial full of spit, they provided me with numerous reports based on my DNA sample.
One of the reports was my Ancestry Composition. It traces your family heritage back centuries and shows your connection to other people around the world.
In my DNA analysis, it was determined I am 33% French and German, 27.1% British and Irish, along with some Eastern European, and a smidge of Italian. As it turns out, I am 99.9% European. No major surprises here, but still interesting.
The other type of report I received from 23andMe was health-based, but this information is more entertainment than useful.
You’ll find out if you can you curl your tongue, what color your eyes are, if you’re going bald, etc.
At the time, there wasn’t any information about serious genetic health risks on 23andMe, so I downloaded my genetic report and uploaded it to Promethease.com.
For only $12, after uploading your genome, the genetic analysis you will receive from Promethease.com will blow your mind.
Promethease.com creates a personal report linking your DNA variations to information published in peer-reviewed scientific publications and presents it to you in the form of a searchable database.
The website links your DNA to thousands of studies based on health risks, personality traits, appearance, drug interactions, viral resistance, disease propensity, and on-and-on.
The first time I viewed my report, I spent hours on the site and barely scratched the surface. The amount of information is incredible. I had no idea how far human genetic research had come.
Besides finding out I was at a higher risk for Alzheimer’s, I discovered some other interesting information in my genes.
Except for Melanoma and prostate, I am at very low risk for all types of cancer. I have extremely high resistance to viral diseases such as HIV and Hepatitis. I don’t experience hangovers like most people, and I’m more likely to think cilantro tastes like soap.
The website 23andme has since expanded to include your predisposition to the twelve conditions listed below. It’s a definite improvement, but still, nothing compared to the data available through Promethease.com.
Age-Related Macular Degeneration
Late-Onset Alzheimer’s Disease
Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency
Type 2 Diabetes
A Side Note on Universal Healthcare
If this technology isn’t the most compelling argument for socialized healthcare, I don’t know what is.
I spent my life working in the Insurance Industry; it’s not hard to imagine a future where a person could be uninsurable at birth thanks to advancements in genetic technology.
Insurers are already using some genetic information while underwriting. Millions of people could be excluded from health insurance coverage, or pay outrageously high premiums as this technology continues to advance.
Insurance companies have one goal, to make money. Why would any for-profit private insurance company take a risk they can avoid?
Don’t expect them to do the right thing. That’s up to us as a society.
A Cure for Alzheimer’s
After digging through my DNA data, by far the highest risk to my longevity is Alzheimer’s Disease.
The first thing I did when finding this out was Google “cure for Alzheimer’s.” I found out, there isn’t one, and to my surprise, scientists still don’t know what causes Alzheimer’s.
Disappointed and concerned, I set-up a Google alert for Alzheimer’s, and over the next year, I read every article I could.
I thought: “I’m 46 years old; There was still time, and surely they must be close to a cure.”
Unfortunately no. The more I learned about Alzheimer’s, the more I realized the research was all over the map.
Also, the more I read, the more terrified I became. I had little knowledge of Alzheimer’s when I began, but as I educated myself, I came to a better understanding of how horrific the disease truly is.
I can’t imagine not knowing my loved ones. It scares the shit out of me to think; I have a 1 in 3 chance of not recognizing my son, Donovan, by age 65.
The current life expectancy for people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s is ten years, with some surviving as long as twenty. What a lonely and isolated existence. I had to do something.
I eventually came to my senses and realized that waiting for some “magic pill” was the wrong approach. It was time to get proactive.
The only reoccurring theme in my research was that diet and exercise decreased the likelihood of contracting the disease.
I was already a healthy eater and reasonably active, but I decided to take it to the next level.
Diet for Alzheimer’s Prevention
Since people love to name their diets, let’s call mine the Common Sense Diet.
Let’s start with nutritional labels. When shopping for groceries, I focus on foods WITHOUT dietary labels.
I stick to the perimeter of the store and buy only fresh, whole, and unprocessed foods. This means a lot of fruits and vegetables.
Chicken and eggs are my go-to protein source. I do eat red meat, but I try to limit it to only a few times a month.
Most of my meals are salads. At first, it might seem that eating mainly salads is boring and unsatisfying, but the reality is the exact opposite.
Most people don’t know how to make a salad. I’m serious. I’ve been to your homes, I’ve seen your potluck contributions. You make terrible salads. You throw some lettuce in a bowl and drown it in dressing.
The salads I eat are not only nutritious, but they’re fucking delicious too.
Typical Meal: spinach, artichokes, cucumbers, tomatoes, green peppers, and tuna
A salad should be a rainbow of ingredients. Start with a base of leafy green vegetables. Add onions, cucumbers, and peppers, Throw in some fermented foods, like sour kraut, pickled beets, artichokes, and ginger. Top off with garbanzo or black beans along with other proteins, such as chicken, hard boiled eggs, fish or shrimp. Don’t forget the bacon bits, driedfruit, and nuts.
The options are limitless. The best part, you can eat as much as you want. You can’t overdo it.
My diet isn’t just about what I eat; it’s about what I don’t eat. I’m not over the top strict, but I avoid all types of sugar. I also limit my intake of pasta and bread — only one serving a day, at most.
As for alcohol, yes, in moderation. I’m not a total asshole.
Eating this way works for me. I feel great and have tons of energy. Intuitively I know I’m healthier for it. It’s just common sense.
Intermittent Fasting and Alzheimer’s Prevention
In the past couple of years, I have also started the practice of intermittent fasting to prevent Alzheimer’s. Fasting and caloric restriction has been proven to extend life expectancy, and new studies have found a direct correlation between intermittent fasting and the prevention of Alzheimer’s.
Intermittent fasting also helps me keep food addictions in check. It forces me to ask myself why I am eating. Am I really hungry? Am I bored? Should I be putting this in my mouth?
Intermittent fasting has made me a more conscious eater. As a result, I have a healthier relationship with food.
Again, I’m not overly strict, but depending on my activity level, I will usually wait until early afternoon before having my first meal. I try to eat only within an eight-hour window each day.
There’s a useful app called Zero that I use to keep track of my fasting.
My exercise of choice is running. I try to run at least nine miles a day. It is now a known fact that high amounts of running can turn back time in our bodies at the cellular level, as much as nine years.
Another no brainer. Social interaction has been shown to prevent Alzheimer’s.
In today’s world, social media has replaced genuine social interaction. You may think you are in contact with your friends, family, and acquaintances. But ask yourself, how often are you really communicating face-to-face in a meaningful way?
My solution? Every evening I ride my bicycle to the local bar for at least one beer.
That’s right; the local bar is part of my Alzheimer’s prevention strategy. It’s the most accessible and most likely place to find consistently good conversation. People speak more freely. You get to know who is in your community. We discuss local and national events. Sometimes it’s light-hearted, other times it’s passionate.
Everyone who works at the bar is in their twenties. I love interacting with them and their younger perspective. We talk about our days, and we listen to each other. We gossip and laugh. It’s the highlight of my day. I helps me feel more in touch with the next generation.
Creativity and Alzheimer’s Prevention
I believe there is a link between cognitive decline and being creative. We’ve all heard the expression “use it or lose it.”
Having a creative outlet is why I started the AgeHIGH blog. It keeps me focused on my goals, and it forces me to use my brain. Like a muscle, it needs to be flexed.
Whether anyone reads my writing or not, it serves a purpose. It makes me think.
With the acceptance that I will not always be here, I also see keeping a blog as a way for me to communicate with future generations.
How insane is it to think, a thousand years from now, my digital legacy will likely still exist? That by documenting my life and passions, I can extend a hand across time and reach out to relatives that won’t be alive for decades. Hopefully, it will inspire them to live their best life and go for it.
Living with the Late Onset Alzheimer’s Gene
In the end, it’s a losing battle for us all. But, by living this way, I can honestly say when my time comes, it will be without regret.
If memory loss is my fate, I will have done the best I could to prevent it, and I will have had a good fucking time along the way.
You see, that’s the side effect of all of this. By practicing healthy habits, my quality of life is far beyond anything I could have ever imagined.
I know a lot of people would rather not know this information, but by confronting my mortality, I have a deeper appreciation for my time here and a better understanding of what’s important. And that’s all anyone needs to have a life well-lived.
If you are new to running, understand this, humans are the most proficient long-distance runners nature has ever created. Any inability to run has been eliminated from your genes centuries ago. It wasn’t that far back in history, that if you couldn’t run, you would die. Everyone can run.
Once back in Playa Del Carmen, I decided to take the ferry to Cozumel and bicycle tour around the island.
I was off to an early start. Even though the ferry was crowded, it was mostly locals. When I arrived in Cozumel, it looked like a ghost town. I later found out; the typically popular tourist destination usually hosts thirty-nine cruise ships a week. Due to COVID, they haven’t had one visit in 5-months.
Shortly after arriving, I started my counter-clockwise circumnavigation of Cozumel, and the small town of tourist shops, bars, and restaurants quickly faded away.
After completing my first ever bicycle tour, I immediately got home and booked another trip. After five weeks of touring Southeast Asia, I couldn’t wait to get back out there. The plan was to cycle Iceland’s Ring Road, but I wanted to make some upgrades to my bike. Here you will find the specs on the custom bicycle touring wheels I order through ProWheelBuilder.com