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Dear Dr. Weil:
I heard that the APO E gene plays a major role in Alzheimer’s Disease and heart disease. Is it a good idea to have an APO E gene test?
Whether or not you should be tested to determine your variation of the APO E gene remains under debate. We know that the APO E gene instructs the body in its production of proteins involved in the transportation of fat and cholesterol. As far back as 1993, Science published a study linking the APO E gene to Alzheimer’s Disease. A plethora of studies conducted since then have corroborated this finding; other studies have linked the APO E gene to coronary heart disease and other chronic conditions.
There are three main types of APO E genes, referred to as E2, E3, and E4. Because we receive one gene from each parent, we are either APO E 2/2, 2/3, 3/3, 4/2, 4/3, or 4/4. In April 2007, The Journal of Neuroscience reported that the APO E 4s, which account for about 15% of the population, are three to ten times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s. One of the reasons people get tested is to see if they have the APO E genotype that predisposes them to Alzheimer’s. In February 2007, Movement Disorder published a study linking APO E4 to an increased risk of Parkinson’s Disease.
Although drugs have not yet been developed that affect the APO E gene, research is proving that diet affects the gene. A major study reviewed in the Journal of Nutrition in 2004 showed that the APO E gene plays a significant role in fat and cholesterol metabolism. Pamela McDonald, RNFA, FNP, an integrated nurse practitioner in San Francisco, has worked with over 12,000 patients to determine the optimal nutrition plan for each APO E allele. Her book, The APO E Gene Diet: A Breakthrough in Changing Cholesterol, Weight, Heart and Alzheimer’s Disease Using the Body’s Own Genes, provides nutritional recommendations for each genotype and recommends way to create a “gene supportive environment” through appropriate exercise, physical environment, and lifestyle.
The decision to do APO E testing is a very personal one. I wouldn’t suggest getting tested just for curiosity’s sake, but if you want to facilitate change in your health, or if you have a family history of Alzheimer’s or heart disease, then you might consider an APO E gene test. In most cases, it’s a simple, non-fasting blood test that your doctor can order. There are also private companies that conduct APO E gene testing. Be aware, however, that national legislation has not been passed preventing insurance companies or even employers from discriminating against your test results.
Pamela McDonald has established, an anonymous APO E testing system using an identification number instead of a name. You can order the APO E Gene Testing Kit by calling (925) 736-8510 or visit www.apoegenediet.com for more information about testing.
A note from Pam: Dr. Andrew Weil is widely recognized as the world’s leading teacher of integrative medicine. This article was written soon after my book, The APO E Gene Diet: A Breakthrough in Changing Cholesterol, Weight, Heart and Alzheimer’s Disease Using the Body’s Own Genes, was published. We received hundreds of positive communications and expressions of gratitude from patients on how it had changed their health, and their lives, for the better. Contact me to see if we can help change your life.