Chris Hemsworth’s Alzheimer’s revelation underscores the importance of prevention

Experts comment on Thor actor Chris Hemsworth’s decision to speak publicly about his increased genetic risk of Alzheimer’s.

Hollywood superstar Chris Hemsworth made global headlines last week revealing he is taking a break from acting after learning he has an increased risk of Alzheimer’s. In an interview with Vanity Fair, Hemsworth admitted the news was “his biggest fear.”

The Thor actor has promoted Limitless, a new longevity-focused TV series in which he will star under the guidance of renowned longevity doctor Dr. Peter Attia underwent an extensive series of genetic tests. The results showed that he has two copies of the APOE4 gene linked to Alzheimer’s, making him up to 10 times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s.

Longevity.Technology: While the world eagerly awaits the introduction of approved longevity therapeutics that will extend our healthy lifespans, the best ways to do that today (improving our diet, exercise, sleep, etc.) are largely preventative. We recently wrote about national initiatives and clinical organizations that prioritize early detection and prevention.

By making the admirable decision to go public with his diagnosis, Hemsworth is helping to raise public awareness of prevention and reinforcing the argument that preventive healthcare must become a new normal. We spoke to some Alzheimer’s experts to get their perspective on Hemsworth’s situation and what actions he and others like him may be considering.

Alzheimer’s affects more than 10% of people over the age of 65, and as the Western population ages, the number of people with the disease is expected to increase rapidly in the years to come.

dr Susan Mitchell, Head of Policy at Alzheimer’s Research UK, explains that our risk of developing diseases that cause dementia, such as Alzheimer’s, depends on several factors.

“Some of these we can’t control, like our genetics, but also others, like health and lifestyle risk factors that can be modified to reduce risk,” Mitchell says. “About one in fifty people has two copies of the APOE4 gene, which increases the risk of Alzheimer’s. Although there are genetic tests for this risk gene, they are not routinely used in the NHS as APOE status is only one component of Alzheimer’s risk. The presence of APOE4 does not mean that someone will definitely develop Alzheimer’s disease.”

By 2050, the number of Americans with Alzheimer’s is expected to reach 12.7 million.

“We believe it’s possible to greatly reduce this number through three steps: early prediction, early detection, and early intervention,” says Dr. William Kapp, co-founder and CEO of health clinic operator Fountain Life.

Early diagnosis is key

While some people see Alzheimer’s and dementia as an inevitable consequence of aging, this couldn’t be further from the truth. With early diagnosis and intervention, the development of dementia can be delayed or even prevented, and healthcare systems can achieve significant cost savings.

“Early predictions are exactly what Mr. Hemsworth achieved through his genetic testing and knowledge of his family history,” says Kapp. “Early detection can be done through AI-assisted brain scans and biomarkers. Unfortunately, early intervention is still difficult to implement. Today, Alzheimer’s is typically not diagnosed until the brain has degenerated to the point of dysfunction. However, by detecting abnormalities early, there are several ways to stop the condition before dementia sets in.”

While national healthcare systems are slow to change, clinical organizations like Fountain Life are already providing preventive healthcare services to patients.

Fountain Life CEO on combining health data and cutting-edge technology to detect disease early and improve longevity.

“We started Fountain Life because it is fundamental to focus on both disease prevention and early detection to mitigate it,” says Kapp. “This is a best case scenario for Mr. Hemsworth because although he is one of the 2-3% of people who carry two copies of the APOE4 gene, we know that genes are not destiny. Understanding that his risk is higher will allow him to maintain aspects of his current lifestyle that already reduce his increased likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s, as well as make specific lifestyle changes in areas that may increase his risk.”

Chris Hemsworth on Alzheimer’s risk

The show’s producers apparently gave Hemsworth the option to keep the Alzheimer’s information out of the show, but the actor felt it was important to keep it.

“I thought … if this is a motivator for people to take better care of themselves and also to understand that there are steps you can take – then fantastic,” Hemsworth told Vanity Fair.

While Hemsworth isn’t retiring, his decision to take a break is to “simplify” and spend time with his family.

“If you look at Alzheimer’s prevention, the benefit of taking preventative measures is that they affect the rest of your life,” Hemsworth told Vanity Fair. “If you have a preposition for cardiovascular disease, cancer or anything — it’s all about sleep management, stress management, diet, exercise, fitness. It’s all the same tools that need to be applied in a consistent way.”

dr Maria Maccecchini is the founder of Annovis Bio, a biotech company with an Alzheimer’s drug ready for Phase 3 trials.

“Chris Hemsworth has the right attitude and doesn’t want his genetic makeup to dictate the course of his life,” she tells us. “He’s right. While there are very few medications for Alzheimer’s disease on the market today, the lifestyle that does the most to keep your body and brain healthy. I admire him for his courage to come forward and to tell the world about his two copies of APOE4 and his increased risk of the disease. We need strong and vocal people to increase awareness and understanding and fight the disease.”

dr  Susan Mitchell, Head of Policy at Alzheimer's Research UK
dr Maria Maccecchini, Founder and CEO of Annovis Bio.

Reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s

So what can someone in Hemsworth’s position do to try to reduce their risk of Alzheimer’s?

“There are things that anyone, regardless of genetic risk, can do to reduce their risk of developing Alzheimer’s and other diseases that cause dementia,” says Mitchell. “Take care of your brain the same way you take care of your heart—like not smoking, exercising regularly, and eating healthily. Staying socially connected and challenging your brain throughout life will likely also help keep it healthy as you age.”

“Don’t light the match against neuroinflammation!” says Kappe. “It’s the best way to reduce your risk. Once the match is lit, the challenge is to control the fire. But how can we prevent the match from striking? Through a healthy lifestyle, strong microbiome, normal body mass index, hormone optimization, exercise, stress reduction, diet and, perhaps most importantly, sleep, during which your brain rids itself of plaque and other neurotoxic buildup.”

READ MORE: New Alzheimer’s genes discovered in world’s largest study


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