- The risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease is higher for women as they comprise two-thirds of Alzheimer’s cases in the United States.
- A woman’s diet in the perimenopausal age can impact the chances of developing dementia later in life.
- Eating a balanced diet of foods with antioxidants, polyunsaturated fatty acids, and phytoestrogens can help improve a woman’s brain health.
Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive disease that affects the memory. As it progresses, there will be changes in mood and behavior, disorientation or confusion of time and space and even physical changes like difficulty in speaking, swallowing, and walking.
Women are at a higher risk for developing Alzheimer’s and a balanced diet for both the body and brain can help in slowing its onset or prevent it from happening.
What women eat in their 20s to their 40s can help prevent the onset of dementia. Women who are in the perimenopausal age (usually early 40s) or the stage when production of estrogen is lessened, should consider having a brain scan at this stage. This stage would determine whether a woman would later develop Alzheimer’s or not.
“From a biological perspective, food is not just food. Food is information, food is molecules that will enter your body and end up inside your brain, and they do serve a very specific function in the brain,” said Lisa Mosconi, a neuroscientist and nutritionist, and author of “The XX Brain: The Groundbreaking Science Empowering Women to Maximize Cognitive Health and Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease”
For example, the neurotransmitter serotonin made from the amino acid, tryptophan, is a mood regulator that is not produced by the body but is ingested from the food we eat.
Here are Mosconi’s tips for a well-nourished brain:
1. Choose foods with antioxidant vitamins:
Vitamin E: nuts and seeds, almonds, extra virgin olive oil and other vegetable oils.
Vitamin C: dark leafy greens, berries including goji berries, citrus fruits like oranges, lemons and grapefruits.
Vitamin A: Red orange colored foods like: butternut squash, carrots, and sweet potatoes.
A well-rounded diet works more than just popping dietary supplements so eat real food rather than vitamin pills.
Mosconi said, “The best way to protect our brains against aging and free radical production during aging is to import anti-oxidants from our diets.”
2. Get enough polyunsaturated fatty acids
DHA (a type of Omega-3 fatty acid) is a polyunsaturated fat that is considered a healthy fat. It is good for cellular and neuronal health and is sourced from the food you eat like: cold water fatty fish — think of the acronym SMASH: salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines and herring.
Strict vegetarians can get a different type Omega-3 (ALA-alpha-linoleic acid) from plant-based foods like almonds, flaxseeds, and extra virgin olive oil.
However, omega 3s from plant-based foods need to be converted to DHA to be more effective in preventing dementia so it is advisable to be on a pescatarian diet or eating more plant-based foods.
Read more about pescatarian diet: Benefits of a pescatarian diet and tips to follow it
3. Consider phytoestrogens
Menopause causes a natural drop in estrogens for women and thus the risk of losing the layer of protection for the brain. It is important to augment this loss with foods rich in phytoestrogens. The best sources are: dried apricots, sesame seeds and sesame oil, flaxseeds and flaxseed oil, grains like oats and wild rice, and legumes like beans, lentils, and chickpeas.
Mosconi cited that a Mediterranean diet is rich in Phytoestrogens and has consistently shown to “reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia and to specifically benefit women.”