Your hippocampus processes info before it’s stored. It works best when you’re emotionally interested in the material or alert when you’re learning about it. This is one reason why coffee can aid memory. It seems to increase alertness the first time you learn something, which increases the chance you’ll deposit it in the long-term memory bank.
But for the purposes of aging, we’re mostly concerned about what happens to the power lines within your brain. So flip on your hippocampus, or grab a cup of Joe and remember this: There are protein fragments in your brain—beta-amyloid—and they’re responsible for gunking up your power lines like overgrown vegetation. They’re likely causing Alzheimer’s. The primary defect in Alzheimer’s affects the input and output power lines of the hippocampus. Memory starts to fade.
The other physiological sign of Alzheimer’s is the buildup of “neurofibrillary tangles.” They’re insoluble twisted fibers that build inside neurons, like power lines getting crossed up and sending energy to the wrong location. These tangles influence intelligence. Now, a downed branch here or there won’t do much to disrupt the energy flow through your whole city, but what happens when a lot of branches fall on the same part of the grid? You’re out of commission.
In general, genes control how much beta-amyloid you have. But your genes don’t have complete control. You can alter the amount of gunk you have gooping up and weighing down your power lines by altering the expression of one of your genes, like the Apo E gene.
Apo E protein acts like the power crew that removes branches and sap from power lines after a storm. It sweeps through and removes the beta-amyloid so your synapses can keep functioning. Whenever we create new synapses to help our brain improve itself, some of this beta-amyloid remains behind, and the Apo E workers clear the gunk to ensure a clean connection.
Local Apo E4
One group in the union, however, local Apo E4, sabotages the effort to restore power and even gunks up the power lines further. An elevated level of E4 protein is correlated with a higher Alzheimer’s incidence. Fortunately, there are things you can do to turn down the activity of the E4 gene and allow the rest of the Apo E team to clear your power lines. Eating turmeric, which is found in Indian foods, seems to reduce expression of the E4 gene (India has a relatively low Alzheimer’s incidence, by the way). Exercise has a similar effect.
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