Alzheimer’s Risk in Women—A Growing Concern
By Britni Vincent, RD, LD
September 29, 2015
I want to start by sharing a client’s story about Alzheimer’s. When my client, I’ll call her Joy, first came to me she shared that her mother had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's several years ago. The disease progressed to the point that the family had to move her mom into a memory care unit. When they visit her, Joy’s mother doesn't always recognize Joy or her siblings. As you can imagine, it has been heartbreaking for Joy to witness the devastating effects of Alzheimer’s; and even though Joy is only in her fifties, she is fearful of developing Alzheimer's herself. She said, “I will do whatever you tell me with my diet if it can help prevent Alzheimer's.” Unfortunately, this scenario is all too common; there are several clients who have the same concern because their mothers have Alzheimer's.
I have a personal connection with Alzheimer's because it runs in my family. My grandmother, who's near and dear to my heart, has been struggling with memory problems. Sometimes she doesn't even remember a conversation we’ve had on the telephone. Her doctor thinks she has Alzheimer's and is awaiting test results to confirm. It has been difficult to watch, especially since just a couple of years ago we were doing all sorts of activities together.
If I told you how to change your nutrition to protect your brain from Alzheimer’s, would you do it? I think anybody who has witnessed the devastating effects of the disease would say yes.
Why are more women affected by Alzheimer’s than men?
It's not a coincidence that all of my stories involve women that have Alzheimer's. Almost two thirds of Americans with Alzheimer’s disease are women.¹ Recent research presented at the 2015 Alzheimer’s Association International Conference revealed that women with Alzheimer’s decline more dramatically than men in measures of cognition, function and brain size. One possible reason for this is that an Alzheimer’s-related gene has a bigger impact on women than men, but more research has to be done.
Some scary statistics
Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease and is the most common form of dementia, which is a general term for memory loss and other intellectual inabilities that are severe enough to impact daily life. As of 2015, an estimated 5.3 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease.¹ By 2025 the number of people age 65 and older with Alzheimer’s disease is estimated to increase by 40 percent!¹
Damaged fats may be contributing to the risk of Alzheimer’s
Did you know that the brain is made up of about 60 percent fat? Knowing that most of your brain is fat, does it make sense to be limiting your fat intake? Also, does it make sense that the fats you choose make a difference?
Not only do many Americans eat low fat diets, but the small amount of fat they do consume is mostly damaged fat. Damaged fats include corn oil, vegetable oil, soybean oil, canola oil, cottonseed oil and trans fats. These damaged fats are found in many food products such as crackers or pastries, but they can even be in roasted nuts. The FDA recently banned trans fats, but food manufacturers have until 2018 to remove trans fats from the U.S. food supply.
A study published in the journal Neurology in 2012 showed that people who have higher levels of trans fats in their blood stream have smaller brains, which is a hallmark symptom of Alzheimer’s. These people also scored lower on thinking and memory tests.²
Take steps today to protect your brain (eat good fats!)
Unfortunately, at this time there is no known cure for Alzheimer’s and few, if any, effective treatments. Dr. Richard Lipton of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine said, “Lifestyle changes look more promising than drug studies so far.”
Although there isn’t a cure for this devastating disease, and we can’t control our genetics, we can control our diet and lifestyle choices. You can start protecting your brain by avoiding damaged fats and oils and choosing healthy fats at your next meal.
Nourish your brain with healthy fat
Remember, your brain is made mostly of fat. Eat healthy fats such as avocado, butter, extra virgin olive oil, olives, nuts and seeds, and consume 1-2 tablespoons of healthy fat at each meal and snack.
Consume coconut oil on a daily basis
Although there currently isn’t any clinical data showing the benefit of coconut oil and Alzheimer’s, many experts believe that coconut oil does help prevent and treat Alzheimer’s. Dr. Mary Newport wrote the book, Alzheimer's Disease: What If There Was a Cure?, about her theory of using coconut oil for the treatment of Alzheimer’s. Dr. Newport’s husband had been battling Alzheimer’s for years, and she started giving him coconut oil every day. Prior to taking coconut oil her husband couldn’t tie his shoes, but after, “He was able to start reading again, his conversation improved dramatically and then over several months we saw improvements in his memory.” Newport reported on her husband’s condition. A clinical trial on coconut oil and Alzheimer’s is currently being conducted at the USF Health Byrd Alzheimer’s Institute that will end this month (September 2015).
Listen to our podcast: Alzheimer’s—A Family Affair with Dr. Mary Newport for more information on using coconut oil to treat Alzheimer’s.
Optimize your intake of omega 3 fatty acids, also important for brain health
A type of omega-3 fatty acid called DHA makes up about 15-20 percent of your brain. Fatty fish such as sardines, salmon, mackerel, herring and lake trout are all good sources of omega-3s. Try Nutritional Weight & Wellness’ recipe for Salmon Cakes for a delicious, omega-3-rich meal. If you’re not consuming fatty fish several times per week, consider supplementing with 3000 mg of omega-3 fish oil each day.
For additional support
More research needs to be done for us to understand how to prevent and treat Alzheimer’s, but hopefully you now feel ready to start protecting your brain by eliminating damaged fats from your diet and including several healthy fats daily.
If you would like additional support to change your diet to protect your memory and your brain, you can schedule a one-on-one consultation with a nutritionist at one of our offices or schedule a phone or video visit appointment if you don’t live in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area.
Also, learn more by listening to our podcast: Women & Alzheimer's
RESOURCES: 1. Alzheimer’s Association. Latest Facts & Figures Reports. 2015. 2. Bowman GL, Silbert LC, Howieson D, Dodge HH, Traber MG, Frei B, Kaye JA, Shannon J, Quinn JF. Neurology. 2012 Jan 24;78(4):241-9