Women, Menopause and Alzheimer’s

Why does a 45 year old woman have 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? In fact, women in their sixties have twice the risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease as they do Breast Cancer.

There is no doubt that Alzheimer’s Disease is increasing around the world at a worrying rate and there are not many of us who have not had to watch a loved family member or friend suffer with it and slowly disappear before our eyes.

For me it was my father who I lost in 2017.

In Australia Alzheimer’s Disease is currently the number one cause of death for women and number two for men. So why do women out number men in getting this debilitating Brain disease?

Up until recently this increased risk for women has been put down to the fact that we are all living longer and women on average live longer than men. Research however now shows there are other factors relating to how a woman’s body and Brain changes with age that are contributing to this increased risk of Alzheimer’s Disease for women.

One of the neuroscientists studying women’s Brain health is Dr Lisa Mosconi, Associate Director of the Alzheimer’s Prevention Clinic at Weill Cornell Medical College and Director of the Women’s Brain Initiative.

In her recent book “The XX Brain” Dr Mosconi identifies that one of the key reasons women are affected more than men is the hormonal changes a woman experiences as she moves through Perimenopause and Menopause. Not only does this period in a woman’s life increase her risk of heart disease, osteoporosis, obesity and diabetes, research shows that it also changes a woman’s Brain, making it more susceptible to ageing and disease.

So given all women will go through menopause at some time in their life how worried should a woman be about how menopause will affect her Brain health for the future?

There are many factors that contribute to whether someone will get Alzheimer’s Disease or other forms of dementia. What most doctors and scientists agree on is that while some people may have a genetic disposition to getting these diseases as they age for most people it is environmental factors and how we chose to live our lives that will be the biggest influence.

In her book “The Women’s Brain” Dr Sarah McKay quotes a 2015 WHO report which sums up how many of us feel. “Dementia is highly stigmatised and universally feared. It is often perceived as a normal part of ageing, and that no actions can be taken to prevent or treat it.”

This is simply not true.

Dementia is not a natural or inevitable consequence of ageing. In fact, 80% of people in their 80’s and nearly half of centenarians remain dementia free. While Alzheimer’s Disease is by far the most common form of dementia we also know that two out of three Alzhiemer’s cases  could be preventable through changes to diet and lifestyle and how we look after our Brains as we age.

So what can a woman do to mitigate the risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease as she ages?

We know that Alzheimer’s 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. So 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 menopause, making it even more important that a woman understands what she can do to keep her Brain and body 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 many of the symptoms of menopause like hot flushes, difficulty sleeping, headaches and moodiness start to disappear as our Brains adjust to less hormones.

For many women however this transition is not easy and poor sleep, memory loss, weight gain, hot flushes and other menopausal symptoms continue to plague them for many years. This is where nutrition and lifestyle changes can play a critical role in a woman’s health and make all the difference to how a woman feels 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 reduce stress, improve sleep, reduce weight and manage insulin levels.

Whatever age or sex you are there are some fundamental things we should all be doing to keep our Brains healthy.

·      Get 6 – 8 hours of quality sleep every night

·      Eat a diet rich in plants, nuts, seeds and good proteins

·      Drink plenty of water – your brain is 80% water and needs to keep hydrated

·      Reduce stress – practice meditation and gratitude

·      Eat plenty of good fats from olive oil, avocados, flax seeds and coconut oil

·      Move your body daily including regular strength and resistance training

·      Reduce your intake of food – a minimum of 12 hours break every night

·      Reduce body fat

·      Keep your brain active by learning new things every day

·      Connect with people – your Brain thrives on being social

As a woman it is reassuring to see that no longer is research on woman’s health simply focused on her reproductive and sexual health and scientists and the medical profession are recognising that woman’s and men’s bodies age differently.

While researchers have been desperately searching for a drug to prevent or simply slow down Alzheimer’s Disease they have not yet come up with a solution. What they have found is the complexities around this disease mean there are lot of factors contributing to whether a person will or won’t get Alzheimer’s Disease.

This link between Alzheimer’s Disease and menopause is a great step forward in helping us to understand why women are at greater risk than men of getting the disease.

The good thing is that we now know if a woman looks after her health during menopause with the right food and lifestyle she will be giving herself the very best chance of keeping her Brain engaged and healthy as she ages.

For those women wanting some help to navigate menopause, feel better and support their Brain and body as it changes both during and after menopause, I offer the following coaching programs:

·      Embrace Menopause & Thrive

·      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.