Preventing Alzheimer's Disease in Women
The lifetime risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer is about one in eight. As women get
older, the risk appears to increase. But a recent report finds that women in their 60s are about twice as likely to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease as breast cancer. The “Alzheimer's Association 2014 Alzheimer's Disease Facts and Figures” report was based on a survey of more than 3,000 American adults. It also found that women are more likely to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease at age 65 than men. At that age, about one in six women will be diagnosed with the mind-robbing disease. Only one in eleven men of that age are estimated to to be likely to be diagnosed with the disease.
Of the five million people currently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, about 3.2 million are women. Alzheimer’s disease is presently the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. It’s unclear why women should be more susceptible to the inflammatory brain disease, which erodes memory and interferes with the ability to reason, learn, and function. Evidence suggests, though, that common conditions such as type 2 diabetes may increase a woman’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
And that suggests that diet and lifestyle may play an important role in preventing the disease. As I mentioned earlier this week, Alzheimer’s disease is much less common among people who adhere to the heart-healthy Mediterranean diet. The diet is anti-inflammatory, while a more typical western-style diet is pro-inflammatory. What’s the major difference between the two? Fats in the Mediterranean diet come primarily from plants, such as extra virgin oil, and fish. And it features very few simple carbohydrates, such as added sugars, or simple starches. The Mediterranean diet also supplies lots of plant-based antioxidants.
In contrast, the typical American diet relies heavily on processed foods, lots of simple carbs, and far more sugar than is good for you. The Mediterranean diet provides anti-inflammatory omega-
3 fatty acids from fish, while the western diet is heavy on pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids from processed foods.
All of which underscores the importance to women of sticking to a healthful lifestyle. Diet is important to everyone, but women’s physiology may make us even more susceptible to certain inflammation-related diseases than men, so it’s especially important that we take steps to follow a more healthful diet.
Singh B1, Parsaik AK2, Mielke MM3, Erwin PJ4, Knopman DS2, Petersen RC5, et al. Association of mediterranean diet with mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer's disease: a systematic review and meta-analysis.J Alzheimers Dis. 2014;39(2):271-82. doi: 10.3233/JAD-