Each June, millions of Americans gather in support of both Men’s Health Month and Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month, two crucial initiatives meant to increase public awareness and the advancement of research. Interestingly, new research recently broke that pertains to both sets of health issues – more specifically, men and their likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s Disease (AD). Additional study insights carried over to men’s chances of developing cancer as well as their generally shorter lifespans, as compared to women.
The new study, presented in the American Journal of Human Genetics, suggests that it is men’s predisposition to the loss of Y chromosomes (LOY) in blood cells over time that may be linked to shorter life spans and risk of developing serious illnesses such as cancer and AD. Men who exhibited LOY were seven times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s Disease, and men with existing diagnoses of AD had a higher degree of LOY. Scientists think LOY lessens the body’s immune function and since women do not have a Y chromosome, LOY cannot occur.
The study looked at blood samples from 3,200 men enrolled in long-term longitudinal research. LOY is believed to affect up to 20% of men age 80 and over, and is the most common genetic mutation men will encounter over their lifetime. The fact that LOY represents a critical marker for the likelihood of developing AD goes against the traditionally held belief that inherited genetic variants are the primary indicator of late-age health concerns.
While it is still too early for researchers to pinpoint the exact link between LOY and serious medical conditions, head researcher Lars Forsberg summed up the benefits of the study best, saying:
“Having loss of Y is not 100 percent predictive that you will have either cancer or Alzheimer's. But in the future, loss of Y in blood cells can become a new biomarker for disease risk and perhaps evaluation can make a difference in detecting and treating problems early."
With the confluence of Men’s Health Month and Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month during June, this study is timely in its applications. It is also yet another indicator that advancements in medicine are increasingly tied back to the successful procurement and examination of samples as simple and easy as blood tests.