Brain Health,

#192: Testosterone vs. Alzheimer’s

August 04, 2017

Testosterone makes you think about virility.

About Alzheimer’s Disease, not so much.

But this isn’t typically taken as a clue to combatting the disease, despite the fact that (much like Superman and Clark Kent) Alzheimer’s and healthy levels of testosterone are almost never seen together in the same place at the same time.

Maybe, just maybe, there’s something going on here?

30 Years in the Alzheimer’s Trenches

Dr. Ralph Martins has been working in Alzheimer’s research for just about a third of a century.  At the time he began his career, it still required a posthumous dissection of the brain to say with certainty, “Yes, this person definitively had Alzheimer’s.”  How far things have come.  Current research involves work on “triple transgenic” mice genetically engineered to mimic human Alzheimer’s in the three most crucial ways: impaired memory, neurons snarled with neurofibrillary tangles and brains overflowing with gunk called amyloid-beta plaque.  Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scans are used to identify Alzheimer’s (and even pre-Alzheimer’s) in living — but not exactly healthy — human brains.

Despite the scientific advances, Alzheimer’s remains an undefeated foe — and one of the more feared medical prognoses of the modern era.  It’s not a quick death sentence, and that is part of what makes it nasty: its slow stripping of a person’s mind and identity long before the victim’s body finally gives way.

Like most diseases that still have medical science on the defensive, Alzheimer’s seems to be multi-faceted, not the product of any one problem or susceptible to any particular silver bullet that will cure (or prevent) it in all cases.  Genes, environmental factors, and bad luck seem to all be at play.  And, of course, advancing age — the single greatest risk factor, and one affecting ever more of the longer-lived population in developed nations.

What’s Love Hormones Got to Do With It?

Early in his career, Dr. Martins saw the link between the crashing levels of estrogen in menopausal women and increasing frequency of Alzheimer’s.  Especially considering what we now know — that the accumulation of amyloid-beta plaque begins twenty or more years before Alzheimer’s cognitive symptoms emerge — it seemed increasingly clear that healthy (i.e. youth-like) levels of estrogen might have a protective affect against the amyloid-beta build-up that is critical to future Alzheimer’s.

Martins wondered: If sex hormones are an important clue in women, might the same be true in men?

(Another piece of circumstantial evidence: “Andropause” in men is a more gradual process than menopause.  Could the more abrupt downshift in hormones be related to the greater prevalence of Alzheimer’s in women vs. men?)


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Much of his subsequent research has been spent chasing down this line of inquiry.  The resulting findings — both in mice, who can be sacrificed to examine their brains, and human subjects (whose brains are spared by science, if not by Alzheimer’s) — seem to confirm the hunch.  Testosterone levels may indeed be protective against amyloid-beta, the harbinger of Alzheimer’s.

In Episode #192, Dr. Martins explains decades of research, focusing on the most current work, including ongoing studies that are in the works at the time of publication, and the right lifestyle choices men can make now to protect against the risk incurred from lowering testosterone levels. 

Note:  You don’t need to look like Wolverine to keep your brain healthy.  You just want to do what you can to encourage healthy testosterone levels for your age group.

Coming Soon:  In October of 2017, Maggie’s Recipe for Life, a diet book coauthored by Dr. Martins and Maggie Beer will be released.  Pre-orders are available here..
Show Notes
  • 00:00:30

    Episode Introduction: Testosterone vs. Alzheimer's

  • 00:01:35

    This Week in Neuroscience: Chronotypes

  • 00:05:07

    Smarts Drug Smarts News + Updates: New Self Experiment Coming Up

  • 00:06:51

    Guest Introduction: Neuroscientist Dr. Ralph Martins

  • 00:08:25

    Interview Begins

  • 00:09:38

    What is Beta-Amyloid?

  • 00:10:54

    Beta-Amyloid Levels and Alzheimer's

  • 00:12:29

    When Alzheimer's Disease Starts

  • 00:14:23

    Where Testosterone Comes Into the Mix

  • 00:18:42

    The Testosterone Experiment in Indonesia

  • 00:20:06

    Is Beta-Amyloid Build-Up Permanent?

  • 00:21:17

    Exercise & Beta-Amyloid

  • 00:22:22

    Sleep & Beta-Amyloid

  • 00:23:25

    Do we know what types of exercise are most advantageous?

  • 00:26:04

    High Cholesterol Gene and Alzheimer's?

  • 00:27:22

    Diet and Beta-Amyloid Build Up

  • 00:32:15

    Age, Testosterone, and Alzheimer's

  • 00:34:00

    Should you take high doses of testosterone?

  • 00:35:25

    Age To Monitor Biomarkers For Alzheimer's

  • 00:41:22

    Interview Wrap-Up

  • 00:42:19

    Ruthless Listener Retention Gimmick: Extra Virgin Olive Oil

  • 00:45:26

    Episode Wrap-Up

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