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Monday, April 26, 2010

Mind & Body

One thing that has been clear in my studies so far is the interconnectedness of the body and the mind. In my first course on human development, all the research we did demonstrated how virtually everything about us, including our personalities and physical and mental health, is determined by the interaction between biology and the environment.

I am not a hypochondriac, but I have always been terrified of getting cancer. This is probably because there is a strong history of cancer in my family, but also because most cancers don't seem to be all that preventable. In other words, we have little control of whether we get them...and that is terrifying to me! Things like heart disease, assuming you don't have a strong genetic predisposition, can be avoided through lifestyle factors, so it is something I rarely worry about. We have no family history and I probably exercise more, and eat a healthier diet, than most North Americans.

Adam's big worry has always been Alzheimer's disease. His maternal grandfather had it, and his paternal grandfather has some level of mild dementia at this point. He has always found the prospect of losing his faculties to be the most frightening thing imaginable. I never really understood that before because I always felt that it would be far worse to have an intact mind but know that your body is going to give out and you are going to die soon. In that case, you are aware of all that you are about to lose. Recently, however, I finished an excellent novel called "Still Alice", by Lisa Genova, a PhD in neuroscience. It is a fictional account of a Harvard professor named Alice, who is diagnosed at age 50 with early onset Alzheimer's. I have to say, I now understand why Adam is so concerned with developing dementia. Developing any chronic disease is a terrible fate, whether its your mind or your body that breaks down, it doesn't matter. Ultimately, if you lose one, you will eventually lose the other too.

My research on Alzheimer's for school uncovered some interesting things. First, only about 5% of cases are due to familial inhereted genes. But like breast cancer, there are genes that dramatically increase your chances of getting the disease. In addition, years of education is inversely related to your risk of developing Alzheimer's. In that case, neither Adam nor I really need to worry! Few people of spent as much time in school as the two of us! Coffee drinking (not merely caffeine consumption though) is also strongly related to risk: so drink up if you want to keep your mind sharp! Finally, regular exercise has been linked with a lower risk of dementia. Just another reason to get your butt moving.