Why Women’s Brains age differently to Men’s Brains

For the first time ever, the female brain has been and is being studied separately to the male brain. This research shows us that not only are women’s brains different to men’s brains they also age differently and have different health issues.

One of these health issues is women have twice the risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease and this risk starts early with a 45 year old woman having a one in five chance of developing Alzheimer’s during her remaining life while a man of the same age has a one in ten chance.

We also know women have twice the rate of depression as men and are more susceptible to developing auto immune diseases including brain diseases like Multiple Sclerosis.

The same is true for men who are more likely to be diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, non Alzheimer’s dementia, ADHD and are four times more likely to commit suicide or develop alcoholism.

Brain health issues on the rise!

Currently there are over 50 million people around the world with some form of dementia which on current rates of illness is expected to triple by 2050. Mental health issues like depression, anxiety, PTSD, ADHD and panic attacks are on the rise with 50% of the population experiencing some form of mental health issue at some stage in their life.

The old theories that we are seeing more brain diseases because we are living longer and dementia is just a natural part of ageing are not true.

Research shows us that only 3% of Alzheimer’s cases are driven by genetics. While 25% of the population inherit one copy of the APOEe4 gene making them more susceptible to getting Alzheimer’s between 65 – 85 it is diet and lifestyle that is driving this big increase across the world. In fact it is now believed that two out of every three Alzheimer’s case could have been prevented through nutrition and lifestyle changes.

While the statistics around dementia are frightening and predicted to get worse we also need to put them in perspective. Currently 80% of people in their 80’s and nearly half of centenarians remain dementia free.

So why are women getting Alzheimer’s Disease at twice the rate of men?

Dr Lisa Mosconi, Associate Director of the Alzheimer’s Prevention Clinic at Weill Cornell Medical College and Director of the Women’s Brain Initiative is at the forefront of studying women’s brains. In her book “The XX Brain” Dr Mosconi identifies that it is the hormonal changes a woman’s brain experiences as she moves through perimenopause and menopause that puts a woman’s brain at greater risk of Alzheimer’s Disease.

What can a woman do to mitigate this risk?

We know that Alzheimer’s Disease begins in the brain of both men and women decades before the first symptoms appear in old age when it has wreaked enough havoc for cognitive symptoms to appear. Waiting until you are in your seventies to worry about your brain is too late. It is how you treat your brain in middle age (35 – 65) that is key.

For women middle age corresponds with perimenopause and menopause, making it even more important that they understand what they can do to keep their brains and bodies healthy during this period of hormonal change.

The good news for women is that as we age our brains learn to compensate for the loss of estrogen and progesterone which occurs during the menopausal period which is one of the reasons why symptoms like hot flushes and difficulty sleeping start to disappear as women’s brains adapt to the changes in hormone levels.

For many women however this transition is not easy and poor sleep, memory loss, weight gain, hot flushes, brain fog and other menopausal symptoms continue to plague them for many years.

The good thing is the right nutrition and lifestyle changes can make all the difference to how a woman feels as she transitions through menopause and how healthy her brain will be as it ages.

This means more hormone balancing food such as fruit and vegetables, nuts and seeds, plenty of healthy fats and clean protein, more flavonols like raw dark chocolate and more phytoestrogens like flaxseeds, sesame seeds and chickpeas.

It also means lifestyle changes to improve sleep, reduce weight and manage insulin levels. A 2018 study shows that women’s brains are far more susceptible to stress then men’s and high cortisol levels in their 40’s have shown to actually shrink women’s brains. Finding ways to reduce and manage stress through practices like meditation, gratitude and the right physical exercise are essential to a woman’s health during this time.

For some women nutrition and lifestyle changes may not be enough to manage their symptoms and get their bodies and brains back on track. This is where options like HRT and bioidentical hormone therapies can make all the difference and should be explored with an appropriate health practitioner.

No matter what age you are or whether you are male or female, there are some fundamental things we should all be doing to keep our brains healthy. Introducing the following 6 habits into your life and committing to making them part of how you live is a good first step towards creating a healthier brain.

1.Get moving!

More and more research is showing that physical activity is one of the most powerful drugs for preserving your brain. A recent study of 80,000 people over a 7 year period showed that while high levels of activity can reduce your risk of dementia by as much as 50%, even small amounts will make a difference.

Your brain is the hungriest organ in your body and consumes 25% of your energy in the form of glucose as well as 25% of your oxygen. The more you move, whether it is aerobic, resistance or incidental physical activity during your day the more oxygen will get to your brain enabling it to grow new connections and neurons.

Physical activity will help you to think more clearly, make better decisions, be more creative as well as helping you stay emotionally balanced.

2.Feed your Brain what it needs to thrive!

When it comes to your brain, food really matters.

Start crowding out those things that hurt your brain like simple sugars, refined carbohydrates and alcohol and replace them with the food your brain loves.

Let’s start with healthy fats

Your brain is 60% fat and needs essential fatty acids in the form of Omega 3’s, in particular DHA to function well. This means fatty fish like salmon, avocadoes, extra virgin olive oil, flaxseeds and nuts.

Are you getting enough protein?

Protein is brain food at its finest because it provides the amino acids that feed your neurotransmitters which carry signals from one brain cell to another. Think serotonin and dopamine which help boost our energy, mental clarity, feel happier, regulate pain, reduce anxiety and initiate deep sleep. Without enough protein your brain just won’t operate that well.

Fruits and Vegetables

When it comes to fruit and vegetables, the more the better. Every brain needs the wonderful variety of polyphenols and phytonutrients that fruits and vegetables give us. Just eat the rainbow and include as many different colours and varieties as you can find. Make sure you include lots of blueberries, leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cabbage.

Coffee

Believe it or not the antioxidants and polyphenols found in 2 cups of good coffee per day make coffee a brain food.

Water

Just like the rest of your body your brain needs to stay hydrated. Drink 6 – 8 glasses of filtered water every day.

3.Stress less and Sleep more

The most important 7 – 8 hours of your day is when you go to sleep at night. This is when the brain cleanses, reorganises and restores itself.

Combine that with activities like meditation, massage, gratitude practices and exercise to relax and manage your stress during the day and increase your neuroplasticity, mental clarity and balance.

4.Nurture your Gut

We have known for a while now that the gut is considered the second brain and good gut health is essential to good brain health.

If your gut microbiome is not healthy or you suffer from leaky gut it will affect your memory, mood, energy, appetite, digestion and recent studies suggest your personality.

A lot of gut health is related to how good your diet is and how much prebiotic fibre you eat however stress, lack of sleep and environmental toxins can also play havoc with your gut.

5.Learn something new every day

Our brains need complexity. Mix up what you are doing to challenge your brain. While puzzles are great the idea is to create new connections through learning something new every day. Travel, read, do training courses, learn an instrument or a play a sport like table tennis or pickle ball. These activities help us create interconnection in the brain and grow neuroplasticity which is essential as we age.

6.Connect with People

Recent studies of both teenagers and older people have shown that while technology is helping us to stay connected, loneliness is growing and is now considered one of the biggest risk factors for dementia and mental health issues across the world.

Find ways to build new social connections. Play a sport, volunteer, join a club, contact old friends you haven’t seen, reconnect with family.

What is next for your brain health?

While many of us know what to do, introducing new habits and committing to them can be where we let ourselves down. Making the change is the hard bit and having someone guiding and encouraging you can make all the difference.

As a Healthy Brain, Healthy Ageing Coach I provide 1:1 coaching programs that help people create healthier brains and healthier lives as well as group programs for organisations who are looking to focus on the wellness of their employees.

In addition to my Memory Rescue and Brain Fit for Life programs I offer two programs specifically designed for women to help them keep their brains and their bodies healthy and well both during and after menopause; Embrace Menopause & Thrive and Be Well – Age with Confidence.

Find out more about my coaching programs here

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Embrace Menopause & Thrive

Every woman experiences menopause differently. Together we will find out what will work best for you to help you manage your symptoms, feel well and set yourself up for good health during your 40’s and 50’s.

The right food, exercise and lifestyle changes will help you to:

  • Sleep better
  • Wake up with more energy
  • Have a clearer mind and a better memory
  • Lose some unwanted kilos
  • Have less headaches, hot flushes and mood swings
  • Feel confident in your body and who you are as a woman

Be Well – Age with Confidence

Why is this program designed for women only?

Because researchers have now discovered that not only do women’s bodies age differently to men’s bodies, so to do their Brains and it has all got to do with hormones.

This is one of the reasons why two thirds of Alzheimer’s patients are women and Dementia is the number one cause of death for women in Australia.

This program will take a woman’s perspective on health and wellness and incorporate elements of the Brain Fit, Memory Rescue and Embracing Menopause program.

Taking a bio-individual approach that looks specifically at your health and lifestyle needs you will discover how to:

  • Keep your mind and memory sharp
  • Successfully keep your weight at a healthy level
  • Nurture your body, Brain and hormones with the right foods and supplements to keep them healthy and balanced
  • Slow down ageing through the right exercise and lifestyle changes
  • Have the energy to live the life you want to live
  • Be confident in your body and who you are as a woman

Brain Fit for Life

Did you know that when your Brain works right, you work right and when your Brain is troubled, you have trouble in your life.

When your Brain is Fit you make better decisions, you are healthier, happier, have better relationships and are more purposeful and successful in life.

What we will do to make you Brain Fit!

  • Take a deep dive into how the Brain functions and how problems in different parts of the Brain can affect behaviour and your health
  • Assess your Brain and your Brain health via Dr Amen’s online Brain assessment tool
  • Look at the four circles of Brain health and how to balance your work and home life
  • Fuel up your Brain for high performance through nutrition, supplements and gut health
  • Give you tools and techniques to challenge ANTS (Automatic Negative Thoughts)
  • Develop a Brain optimisation plan that will protect your Brain for the future

Memory Rescue

Are you noticing that your memory is not as good as it used to be?

Has Covid affected your short term memory?

Is your Brain a little foggy or not as sharp as it used to be?

It is not until our memories start to slip that we realise how essential they are for working and living well.

The exciting news is the Hippocampus which is the memory centre of the Brain makes up to 700 new cells every day. If you put these cells in a growth environment they will thrive, keep them in a toxic environment and they will die.

This program starts with a review of your Brain health using the Dr Amen on line Brain health assessment tool which will give you a personal report of your current Brain health.

Then using the BRIGHT MINDS pneumonic as a guide we will look at each of the 11 major risk factors that steal your mind and what you can do to manage these risks, sharpen your memory, boost cognitive function, reverse brain ageing and decrease your risk of Alzheimer’s Disease.