A common discussion among midlife women is cognition and their risk of Alzheimer’s disease. To provide insight into this topic, we are highlighting information from The XX Brain, a book written by Lisa Mosconi, PhD, who runs the Women’s Brain Initiative at Weill Cornell Medical College in NYC. The book offers actionable steps women can take with regard to food choices and exercise which may help prevent cognitive decline.
In her book, Mosconi highlights statistics about Alzheimer’s disease:
- 2 out of 3 Alzheimer’s patients are female.
- Women over 60 are twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s versus breast cancer.
- A 45-year-old woman has a 1 in 5 chance of developing Alzheimer’s in her lifetime. A man has a 1 in 10 chance of the same.
- While diagnosed in older years, Alzheimer’s can start to develop in the 40s and 50s. – Up to 80% of women going through menopause have potential to develop neurological symptoms.
While some research suggests a strong genetic component to risk of Alzheimer’s disease, The XX Brain suggests no more than 1-2 percent of the population are at heightened risk due to genetic mutations. According to Dr. Mosconi, while that genetic link may in fact be present, the “presentation” of it can be impacted by many other variables in your life, such as your medical health, environment and lifestyle choices. In fact, the term “epigenetics,” which is now gaining popularity as a science, is exposing the fact that certain lifestyle choices can actually determine whether a gene – if it is present – is “expressed” or active, or not.
In her book, Mosconi suggest that many variables in an individual’s life can contribute to whether a gene is active or not, including:
- Approach to food choices and fitness
- Intellectual and social engagement
- Stress reduction
- Sleep quality
- Balance of hormones
- Avoidance of smoking and toxins in the environment
- Health status, specifically whether you have heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and/or depression
According to The XX Brain, at least one-third of Alzheimer’s cases could be prevented by medical or lifestyle shifts. The text also suggests that lifestyle modifications can be implemented to repair, rejuvenate, and increase the longevity in the brain.
Mosconi suggests the following lifestyle modifications:
- Choosing the right carbs. This includes whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, and whole wheat, as well as making sure vegetables cover 50% of your plate.
- For fruits and vegetables, the key is to get key antioxidants like Vitamins A, C, and E from foods like berries, apples, cherries, oranges and carrots, spinach, kale, broccoli and many more.
- Selecting the right fats, specifically polyunsaturated fat (PUFA) sources like fish, shellfish, nuts and seeds. According to the book, people consuming two grams of PUFAs per day had a 70% lower risk of Alzheimer’s than those who ate less. Women who consumed more PUFAs in their early-to-late-middle age years had the highest levels of brain activity as well as the lowest levels of Alzheimer’s plaques.
- Minimizing consumption of red meat and dairy products. People consuming at least 13 grams of saturated fat daily from red meat and dairy sources were twice as likely to have cognitive impairment.
- Managing blood sugar. Diabetes or not, Mosconi suggests those with higher blood sugar levels had a higher risk of dementia. This can mean minimizing soda and desserts, and getting sugar from sources that carry fiber with them to help reduce the blood sugar impact, such as fruits, or starches like sweet potatoes with skin.
- Getting Exercise. Exercise stimulates the production of a growth hormone that promotes brain cell repair, increasing the ability to make and retain memories. According to Dr. Mosconi, recent breakthroughs suggest that, even in situations where aggressive genetic markers are present, those who engaged in regular exercise had much lower levels of Alzheimer’s brain plaques than those who didn’t exercise. Dr Mosconi has gone so far as to say “lack of physical activity is currently listed as one of the top risk factors for Alzheimer’s, ranked even higher than diabetes, obesity or hypertension.”
While there are other variables in lifestyle and environment that can impact Alzheimer’s disease, the key takeaway here is that the food and fitness choices we make, in menopause or midlife, may have an impact on the development of brain-related disorders in later life, including Alzheimer’s.
We recommend snagging Dr. Mosconi’s book for more information and tips on preventing cognitive decline. The brain is our most important muscle ladies, keep it strong!
Also in This Issue:
Just when you thought you knew everything there was to know about vegetables, there’s one more layer to peel back! A 20-year study of more than 13,000 women found that those who eat the most veggies, including cruciferous options (think broccoli, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts) and leafy greens (think spinach, kale, collards, lettuce), had a slower cognitive decline than women consuming the least amount.