What does this mean for future dementia research?
We’ll need to further substantiate whether reducing body fat in the belly area lowers dementia risk and improves memory function. Based on my clinical experience, I would say of course it does. But we need to prove this now through rigorous studies. Our team at the Alzheimer’s Prevention Clinic is investigating this through a study we hope to publish soon.
Two out of three people affected by Alzheimer’s disease are women. Why does Alzheimer’s affect women more than men?
We used to say, “We don’t know,” but that’s not true anymore. Several factors are at play: It’s not just because women live longer, it’s not just because of the decrease in estrogen during menopause — which is very important and I’ll talk about that in a moment — it’s also due to a brain energy metabolism problem.
Just as there are metabolism changes in the body as you age, brain metabolism changes also occur. What we’ve seen through recent research is that certain hormonal risk factors like menopause can increase risk of Alzheimer’s from a metabolic perspective. During menopause, there are bioenergetic shifts in the brain that can trigger glucose hypometabolism (the inability to consume glucose), especially in people who are at the highest risk for Alzheimer’s.
We just published a new study that found that women who are undergoing perimenopause had higher amyloid deposits and their brain had trouble metabolizing sugar, the brain’s energy source, and had lower volumes of gray and white matter.
When should women be thinking about their brain health?
Alzheimer’s begins in the brain over 20 years before the first symptom of memory loss begins. So, if you have a family history of Alzheimer’s or a family member got symptoms of dementia starting at say, 55, then at least by 35 you should start getting serious about your health. If you have multiple family members with Alzheimer’s and the average age of the onset is 70, then at a minimum, you should start in your 40s.
But Alzheimer’s prevention, honestly, begins in the womb: The food and vitamin B content of what a mother eats while pregnant correlates with cognitive outcomes later on. Alzheimer’s is a life course disease, and the earlier someone pays attention to their brain health, the more of an impact they can make.
What can people do in their earlier years to stave off dementia in their later years?
Be proactive about your health. Take control of risk factors like high blood pressure, cholesterol, and diabetes, exercise regularly, consider switching to a Mediterranean diet, stress management, there are so many things. One out of every three cases of Alzheimer’s disease may be preventable if that person does everything right. That being said, some people will do everything right and still get Alzheimer’s, but research shows that people can really make a tangible impact on their trajectory away from Alzheimer’s by making healthy lifestyle choices.