Are your grandparents’ genes the reason you’re living longer?
Not only do grandparents act as a resource for their children – providing child care, picking the kids up from school and helping out when kids get sick – they’re also helping their grandchildren live longer.
The ability to pass wisdom on to their grandchildren and provide an additional level of nurturing could be impacting evolution, according to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Researchers found that humans possess gene variants that could defend against Alzheimer’s disease and potentially other illnesses like heart disease and type 2 diabetes. These variants have not been found in primates, which led researchers to the hypothesis that humans may be evolving to stay alive and well longer in order to help their descendants.
“Currently, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s,” says Dr. Daniel Litoff, internist and geriatrician at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center in Chicago. “It’s a progressive neurodegenerative disease that occurs late in life but doesn’t affect all elderly. It’s interesting that some of our grandparents may have evolved a mechanism to protect themselves.”
Humans are living longer today than ever before, meaning more people are at risk for developing late-in-life illnesses such as Alzheimer’s. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, one in three seniors die with Alzheimer’s or dementia.
“It’s a devastating illness and impacts not just the patient, but their family members who care for them,” says Dr. Litoff. “My hope is that new treatment options will be found for those affected with Alzheimer’s and other diseases, whether that includes new drugs to prevent or reverse the changes in the brain or finding a way to turn on these protective genes.”
Some academics agree this gene’s existence may not be a result of natural selection, but instead could appear for a number of other reasons or simply by chance.
“No matter the reason, it’s wonderful when grandparents can be a source of help and comfort for their children and grandchildren,” says Dr. Litoff.
Researchers said discovering the gene’s variant could impact the way we cure Alzheimer’s disease, but that more research is needed.
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