Women and Alzheimer’s: 8 Steps to Optimise Brain Health

A doctor looking at brain scans

Unlocking the Secrets of Women's Brain Health. Image: Pexels/Anna Shvets

Understanding Why Women Are More Likely to Develop Alzheimer’s and How to Optimise Brain Health

Women’s brain health has long been an under-researched and under-diagnosed area of medicine. It is now known that women are more susceptible to certain neurological conditions, such as Alzheimer’s disease, anxiety, depression, headaches, migraines, brain tumours, and strokes. Neuroscientist Dr. Lisa Mosconi, director of the Women’s Brain Initiative at Weill Cornell Medical College, has dedicated her work to uncovering the functional differences between female and male brains and their impact on brain health, particularly in women. Her groundbreaking research challenges the notion that Alzheimer’s is solely an age-related disease and highlights the role of declining estrogen during perimenopause as a trigger for brain changes associated with dementia and Alzheimer’s.

The Differences Between Male and Female Brains

Contrary to popular belief, the differences between men and women are not primarily anatomical. Instead, they lie in the functional variances influenced by genetics. Women possess two X chromosomes, while men have one X and one Y chromosome. With nearly a thousand genes more on the X chromosome, women have distinct genetic advantages that contribute to brain function, beyond reproduction. Estrogen, produced by women’s brains, and testosterone, produced by men’s brains, play crucial roles in brain health, immune system support, neuronal formation, synapse development, and energy production.

How Hormonal Changes Impact Brain Function

While both estrogen and testosterone are vital for brain function, their decline occurs at different stages in men and women. Testosterone gradually declines over time, allowing many men to remain fertile into their 70s or 80s. In contrast, estrogen levels in women decline rapidly during menopause, significantly affecting overall body and brain functionality. This emphasises the need for different care approaches tailored to the specific needs, strengths, and risks of women’s brain health.

Optimising Brain Health

Research indicates that adopting a healthy lifestyle is beneficial for both men and women in optimising brain health. However, there are certain nuances and specific recommendations that are particularly beneficial for women:

  • Manage Carbohydrate Intake: Focus on consuming vegetables and fruits as the main source of carbs, prioritise whole grains over refined grains, and include legumes and starches like sweet potatoes.
  • Embrace Phytoestrogens: Phytoestrogens found in soy, seeds, whole grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables can provide milder estrogen-like effects, supporting women’s brain health.
  • Protect the Brain with Antioxidants: An antioxidant-rich diet, including fruits (berries, oranges, apples), vegetables (leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables), onions, carrots, tomatoes, squash, artichokes, and extra-virgin olive oil, can counteract oxidative stress and promote brain energy levels.
  • Choose the Right Fats: Avoid processed foods containing trans fats, as they have been linked to various health issues. Opt for healthier fats found in nuts, seeds, avocados, and fatty fish.
  • Feed Your Microbes: Promote a healthy gut microbiome by consuming fibre-rich foods, prebiotics (garlic, onions, asparagus, bananas, cabbage, leeks, artichokes), and probiotics (yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, pickles).
  • Moderate Alcohol and Coffee Intake: Limit alcohol consumption, opt for red wine in moderation, and consume coffee in moderation (up to 300 mg of caffeine per day).
  • Hydration is Key: Stay properly hydrated by drinking ample amounts of water daily, as dehydration can lead to fatigue, dizziness, confusion, and even brain shrinkage.
  • Caloric Restriction: Consider intermittent fasting it is a popular eating pattern that involves alternating periods of fasting and eating. It has gained attention for its potential benefits for brain health, such as promoting cellular repair and improving cognitive function. By restricting the time window in which food is consumed, intermittent fasting may help regulate metabolism, reduce inflammation, and support overall brain wellness.

Something to note for those living on the Coast of Spain!

The Mediterranean diet has been widely recognised for its numerous health benefits, including its positive impact on brain health. Rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and healthy fats like olive oil, the Mediterranean diet provides a variety of nutrients that support brain function and protect against cognitive decline. The high intake of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds in this diet may help reduce oxidative stress and inflammation in the brain, while the presence of omega-3 fatty acids from fish and nuts can contribute to improved cognitive performance and a lower risk of neurodegenerative diseases. Incorporating the Mediterranean diet into your lifestyle may be a delicious and effective way to nourish your brain and promote long-term cognitive well-being.

Mediterranean food on a rustic wooden table
The Mediterranean diet widely recognised for its numerous health benefits. Image:Pexels/Engin Akyurt

The research conducted by neuroscientist Dr. Lisa Mosconi highlights the functional differences between male and female brains, shedding light on why women are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease and other brain-related conditions. However, by understanding these nuances and taking proactive steps, women can take control of their brain health at an earlier age.

Dr. Mosconi highlights the importance of optimising brain health through a combination of factors such as a healthy diet, regular exercise, quality sleep, stress reduction, and avoiding toxins. For women, a plant-based diet rich in antioxidants and phytoestrogens can have specific benefits for brain health. Additionally, supporting the gut microbiome and being mindful of alcohol and coffee consumption can contribute to overall brain wellness.

By adopting these practices, women can enhance their cognitive function, protect against age-related brain diseases, and improve their quality of life. It is never too early or too late to prioritise brain health, and these evidence-based recommendations provide a roadmap for women to optimise their brain function and well-being.

To find out more see Dr. Lisa Mosconi’s book:

Or watch Dr. Lisa Mosconi’s highly regarded Ted Talk here: https://www.ted.com/talks/lisa_mosconi_how_menopause_affects_the_brain

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Written by

Catherine McGeer

I am an Irish writer who has been living in Spain for the past twenty years. My writing centers around the Costa Cálida. As a mother I also write about family life on the coast of Spain and every now and then I try to break down the world of Spanish politics!