Could A New Gene Discovery Explain Why More Women Are Diagnosed With Alzheimer's Than Men?

A team of researchers from the University of Chicago has made a groundbreaking discovery when it comes to Alzheimer's disease, reports CNN. Currently, approximately only a third of people diagnosed with the neurological condition in the United States are men, meaning that the disease disproportionately affects women. The researchers believe that they have uncovered a reason why women are more likely to be diagnosed with Alzheimer's, and that's because of a gene called O6-Methylguanine-DNA-methyltransferase, or MGMT for short. Since MGMT is responsible for how the body repairs DNA damage, the study analyzed a potential link between MGMT and Alzheimer's. In studying both women and men, the research team discovered that MGMT doesn't seem to cause Alzheimer's in men, but it does in women.

Dr. Lindsay Farrer, a senior coauthor of the research study, told CNN that, "It's a female-specific finding — Perhaps one of the strongest associations of a genetic risk factor for Alzheimer's in women." Prior to this study, other known factors that make women more prone to developing Alzheimer's disease include the abrupt drop in estrogen they experience during peri-menopause, the period of transition prior to the onset of menopause, and the presence of the APOE ε4 gene. 

Can Alzheimer's be prevented?

Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia that results in the degradation of memory and eventually body function, according to the Alzheimer's Association. While there isn't enough research to determine if the MGMT gene can be mediated so that there is a lesser risk of Alzheimer's, researchers from the recent study have noted that not everyone with the APOE ε4 gene develops the disease (per CNN).

Living a healthy lifestyle that includes a balance of activity and social connections is key in reducing risk for developing Alzheimer's disease (via Alzheimer's Association). Physical exercise is key in not only abating your risk for Alzheimer's, but also for other forms of dementia like vascular dementia. Eating a well-balanced and nutritious diet high in whole foods, including fruits, vegetables, and plant-based proteins, is another way to contribute to both brain and body health. Since brain injuries can drastically increase the possibility of developing dementia or experiencing cognitive degradation, practicing safe habits like always wearing a seatbelt and helmet when riding a bicycle can help protect your brain. Lastly, social connections and interpersonal relationships are extremely important in keeping cognitive decline at bay. Finding ways to remain mentally and intellectually active, including learning new things, can exercise your brain's cognitive abilities.