Are Women More Vulnerable to Alzheimer's & Autoimmune Diseases?
Alzheimer’s, or cognitive decline, is a bourgeoning problem among the elderly in the USA. Globally, about 4% of people have at least one autoimmune disease, while in the USA, the figure is about twice that.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 5.8 million Americans live with Alzheimer’s. By 2050, the number of people aged 65 and older with Alzheimer’s Dementia is projected to reach 12.7 million.
Dementia or Alzheimer’s has physical, psychological, social and economic impacts. It does not only affect the life of the person living with dementia, but also for his/her cares, families and society.
Surprisingly, women are most affected by Alzheimer’s. Among those who suffer from this condition, women afflicted with this problem are twice as many as men.
This gives way to many questions, such as:
Are there genetic factors involved? Does it have anything to do with the female hormones? Etc.
The findings have been mixed; however, the ground facts show that some biological factors may be affecting women more than men in developing Alzheimer’s and other autoimmune diseases.
Today’s blog will look into these questions and find out the best possible pathway for women.
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What is Alzheimer's?
Alzheimer’s is a brain dysfunction or a neurodegenerative disease, where the nerve cells/neurons are damaged physically and cause disruption in memory and cognitive abilities. This loss of memory and other mental abilities is slow and may span many years.
Memory loss that disrupts daily life may be a symptom of Alzheimer’s or other Dementia. The broader term to define memory loss and loss of other mental abilities is Dementia. Alzheimer’s is the most common type of Dementia, but there are many different types of Dementia.
Useful Resource: Here is a useful link to see the Dietary Recommendations for Americans Issued by dietaryguidelines.gov to review how an ideal diet should be according to every age group.
What are the Signs and Symptoms of Alzheimer's?
Changes in brain occur years before before being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. The first signs and symptoms may arise at the age of 35 years. These include:
- Forgetfulness: Forgetting recently learned information
- Inability to follow directions: Their ability to develop and follow a plan or work with numbers changes.
- Difficulty in daily tasks: Difficulty completing familiar tasks such as making grocery lists.
- Trouble understanding visual images: Trouble in judging distance and determining color or contrast. This may also cause issues with driving
- Difficulty communicating: Trouble following or joining a conversation.
- Misplacing things: Inability to retrace steps or find items they placed themselves
- Decreased judgment: Decreased ability to deal with money and numbers and forgetting to clean or groom themselves.
- Developing withdrawal behaviors: Developing behaviors such as withdrawal from work and social interactions/activities
- Mood changes: Changes in mood and personality
- Losing Track of Time: People may lose the count or track of the time of the day
Not only is Alzheimer’s a disabling disease but also burdensome financially and physically. According to the most recent Global Burden of Disease classification system, Alzheimer’s disease became the sixth most burdensome disease in 2016 in terms of DALYs (disability-adjusted life years), it was the 4th highest disease or injury in terms of YLLs (years of life lost) and the 19th in terms of YLDs (years lived with disability).
Is Alzheimer's Reversible?
Who Develops Alzheimer's?
Scientists and researchers outline a few risk factors for developing Alzheimer’s. These are:
- Family history
- Education and Educational Opportunities
- Social and Cognitive Engagement
- Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)
- Critical illness and medical encounters such as hospitalization
Exposure to air pollution
Women – The Vulnerable Group to Developing Alzheimer's and other Dementia
Before talking about women, here are some statistics that show why women need to be discussed more in terms of Dementia and Alzheimer’s.
- In developing autoimmune diseases such as Multiple Sclerosis, women are found to be more at risk than men globally
- Globally, women with Dementia outnumber men 2 to 1.
- Almost two-thirds of Americans with Alzheimer’s Are Women
- Out of 6 million Americans struggling with Alzheimer’s 4 million are women.
- Brain scans show that the rate at which brain cells die in the brain is faster in women than in men.
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Reasons Why Women May be More Affected by Dementia
Globally, women are more likely to live longer than men. Their life expectancy is 81 versus 76 years in men. Hence, they are more likely to develop Dementia.
Women and estrogen hormones are lifelong companions. Like every other system of a woman’s body, estrogen also affects the brain, its growth, functions, memory and mental health. Estrogen hormones are known to protect the brain cells. Researchers have found that women with higher levels of estrogen in their lifetime are less likely to develop Dementia.
Alzheimer’s is known to be developed due to amyloid plaques. A protein formation between nerve cells that is a part of the brain’s immune system to fight against infections.
Since women have stronger immune systems than men, they may have more amyloid plaques than men. This explains why women end up having a greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
It is a common saying that what is good for the heart is good for the brain. Improving heart health is known to lower dementia risk. But this is also linked to sex. Some studies found that high blood pressure in midlife increases the risk of developing Dementia in women but not men.
Hormones and chromosomes
Many studies found mixed findings about the development of autoimmune diseases in men and women. They do not only blame estrogen but are unclear whether it results from higher levels of female hormones or low levels of male hormones such as testosterone, or a combination of the two that poses a risk. The difference between XY and XX chromosome makeup also reveals some interesting links between the development of Alzheimer’s and other autoimmune diseases. Modern-day sedentary lifestyles also affect reproductive hormone levels. Pregnancy hormones have also been found to reduce women’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s and Dementia.
Nutrition and Health Status
Hormonal Imbalances, Autoimmune Disease, Food Sensitivity, Gut Challenges, Mood Swings, Pregnancy and Menopause may be the contributors to improve or worsen Dementia & Alzheimer’s risk in women. Since women undergo more of all these changes during their lifetime, their risk of developing dementia is greater than men. The availability of Micro & Macro nutrients is also a key player in this regard.
Can Diet Improve or Reverse Alzheimer's?
There are proven studies that suggest that improved diet quality can potentially improve the symptoms of Alzheimer’s.
Cognitive decline arises from an insufficiency in the brain’s network that mediates plasticity, i.e., the ability to change and mold the brain to add new thoughts and memories.
Sugar and processed food, damage our synapses and stop information from being transmitted effectively, taking us from plasticity to rigidity. When we look at those insults, we begin getting to the root cause of brain damage.
A Holistic Approach to Dealing with Alzheimer's and Dementia
Several studies have found that some simple diet and lifestyle changes can help reduce the symptoms of Alzheimer’s and Dementia. Functional Nutrition takes a wholesome approach to Alzheimer’s, where not just symptoms but the root causes, i.e., the things causing the disruption in the brain function, are addressed.
These lifestyle changes include:
- Exercise: A 30 minutes exercise every day, such as aerobics, brisk walking, jogging, biking, and swimming, keeps your brain active and energetic and improves Alzheimer’s
- Healthy diet: Healthy food such as the Mediterranean dietinclude wholesome foods such as fish, olive oil, avocados, fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans, whole grains, and poultry are rich in magnesium, zinc and other minerals essential for brain health
- Sleep: Sleeping well helps the brain to repair and clean itself of the Alzheimer-causing plaques.
- Cognitively stimulating activities: Participating in social activities and other activities that may stimulate cognitive thinking in individuals could help keep the brain healthy for a long.
- Non-drug treatments: Music-based therapies and psychological treatment (for example, cognitive behavioral therapy) help reduce behavioral symptoms attached to Alzheimer’s, such as depression, apathy, wandering, sleep disturbances, agitation and aggression.
Diet Interventions for Alzheimer's – How Nutrition Can Support Alzheimer's
Mediterranean and heart-healthy diets are the major diets that help support Dementia. Emerging evidence suggests that consuming a heart-healthy diet helps reduce dementia risk. A heart-healthy diet includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, chicken, nuts, legumes and healthy fats such as olive oil while limiting saturated fats, red meat and sugar.
Examples of healthy diets that are effective for Alzheimer’s as well are:
- Mediterranean diet
- DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension)
- MIND (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) diets
- Ketogenic diets
How Personalized Nutrition Can Help?
Personalized Nutrition takes a test-based approach to nutrition and nutrition deficiencies. It is not a one-size-fits-all solution but calls for a unique tailored diet plan for an individual where their individual test results are analyzed to determine which nutrient is needed to be added to the diet to recover for the loss.
This is a scientific approach and not just hit and trial; thus, it helps support your condition and reduce the symptoms as much as possible. Nutrition does not just help reduce the symptoms but also enhances the brain functions to delay and prevent the development of Alzheimer’s and Dementia symptoms.
If you need help in personalized nutrition support, please remember you can always schedule a free 20-minutes session with me and find out your options.
Dementia and Alzheimer’s are growing globally, and women are the most affected sex worldwide. The reasons behind this are many ranging from hormonal makeup to the life expectancy of women. Since traditional Medicine fails to provide satisfactory prevention for Alzhemimer’s and Dementia, so there is a way to support your brain and preserve your functions from disruption through Functional Nutrition. Personalized functional and holistic Nutrition can help delay and reduce the symptoms and onset of Dementia and ensure a healthy and quality life.