Dr. Karen Wolfe is trained as a medical doctor in Australia and has dedicated the last twenty-five years to health promotion and wellness. Dr. Karen is skilled at delivering complex medical, biological and nutritional information in understandable ways.
Throughout this 3 part series, Dr Karen will be providing her expert advice on various topics to do with health and wellbeing as we age.
With a free downloadable eBook available with each episode!
In episode 1 Dr Karen discussed all you need to know about longevity and vitality. Next up is episode 2, where Karen shares her insights on Ageing and Alzheimer’s.
What is the split between women and men who get diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease?
Two-thirds of diagnoses of Alzheimer’s are women. Also around two-thirds of women are the caregivers of individuals with Alzheimer’s. So this topic of women and Alzheimer’s is so important, this is something we are studying, however are still in the infancy of trying to really look at the why question. Here, I will start to talk about why women are certainly the chunk of the population, but as mentioned this study and discussion is still in its infancy and such an important topic.
Why are women more at risk than men?
One reason is interestingly reproductive history, so the research is showing the more babies you have the lower risk potentially you have of Alzheimer’s. Keep in mind, I’m throwing all of these out of where we’re at right now in the research but these are the areas that are being really looked at and studied in more detail to try and really resolve the why.
But certainly reproductive history is one reason, the other reason is the hormone oestrogen, post-menopausal our oestrogen levels go down and oestrogen is very brain protective. Hormones have a lot to do with the brain but in terms of Alzheimer’s and the bigger preponderance in women oestrogen is also being linked.
Additionally, there is a gene called APOE 4, it’s been called the Alzheimer’s gene, (which is really dangerous because I don’t believe that genes are your destiny, genes just give us some information) and the APOE4 gene which is somewhat linked to fat metabolism has been tied to a higher risk of Alzheimer’s.
However, if you have that gene then there are certain lifestyle factors like reducing saturated fats, but it seems like women have a bigger APOE for response, so genetics is coming into the conversation about why women are at higher risk.
Another reason is the link between depression and Alzheimer’s, now here’s the question – did depression come first and then Alzheimer’s, or Alzheimer’s then depression, but there is certainly a strong link between depression and Alzheimer’s, and women are diagnosed way more with depression.
Another big reason women tend to have higher verbal skills and on testing they test better so women are diagnosed later with Alzheimer’s. Which means we need to be more specific with our testing, different testing perhaps for men and women, that’s certainly something that we need to really focus on.
And then there is there’s issues outside biology, so there’s often discussion and thank goodness this has changed a lot, but the higher education the lower your risk of Alzheimer’s. In years gone by women weren’t reaching higher education that’s now changed in the united states more women are in higher education than men, so it’s good that’s changing but level of education including higher education and job opportunities play a part, so that use it or lose it kind of thing, the link between the actual use of the brain.
So, there are some reasons and this is a huge area of study that we’re really trying to zone in on – the why between the two-thirds of diagnoses are women. I find it fascinating and it is a very important conversation and those things that I listed out are what we know as of now and the research continues.
Is there anything we can do to prevent it, or is our fate determined by genetics?
I am a health coach so I’m all about lifestyle and what I’m about to say in no way shames people. If there’s already a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s none of this is meant to be ‘oh I didn’t do that, I wish I’d done that’. Because we only know what we know and we don’t know what we don’t know. All I’m sharing with you is what we know currently about lifestyle factors to reduce your risk, and there are many and I’m going to list some so hopefully this is helpful because all of these things are doable for all of us, it’s part of having a wellness lifestyle.
The first one which might surprise you is blood sugar control, Alzheimer’s has sometimes been called type 3 diabetes because of the link between blood sugar and our brain. So having blood sugar in control and I could do a whole webinar on what that means, but what your fasting blood sugar level is. Even with my coaching clients I have them get glucometers so that they know what their blood sugar is because it changes all through the day.
Even fasting blood sugar this morning could be affected by a bad night’s sleep, there are many things that change blood sugar. But blood sugar control, making sure you know your numbers is right on top of the list. The other thing is gut health and we’re going to be doing another episode talking more specifically about gut health. But our gut is called our second brain and there is major communication between our first and our second brain.
So having good healthy gut health is really important, I won’t go into detail about what that is because we’re doing another episode all about that. I’d say the next big one would be exercise, so you heard in the first episode I consider exercise being the major prescription for longevity and health and depression. Exercise is huge when it comes to a keeping our brain healthy and I have the acronym unit (you’ll learn about me, I love acronyms!) BIG. So, what does exercise do – ‘B’ it improves blood flow, we need blood flow to our brain, what’s good for the heart is good for the brain so good blood flow. ‘I’ is reducing inflammation, exercise helps dampen down inflammation which is like the fire in our body that we need to calm down. And ‘G’ exercise actually increases growth factors in the brain, there’s a growth practical BNDF brain derived nerve growth factor, that is actually improved with exercise. so ‘BIG’ the power of exercise, physical activity, and active lifestyle to keep our brain alive and keep our brain healthy.
There’s also I guess number four would be what we eat. There’s a thing called the mind diet, that is basically a Mediterranean diet, good healthy plants, lots of healthy fats and oils (our brain needs healthy fats) and reducing processed foods, saturated fats, red meat, thick butter etc. So, it’s called the mind diet you can certainly look that up so and there are many other things keeping our social life, active connections etc. I did a whole webinar on 10 ways to prevent Alzheimer’s and it’s all about an active lifestyle, and those are the top ones I talked about but there are others.
If I have a loved one who is diagnosed, what can I do to help?
Is it walks? Yes it is. Is it puzzles? Yes it is. Is it meeting with family? Yes it is. It’s all of those things, it’s stimulating the brain, the mind body brain. The eBook that I’m going to offer, because our time here is so short, I wrote an eBook on mental well-being and resilience. Our brain is very resilient and we used to think that once brain cells die they die forever, but we now know with new growth, with defining different paths, like puzzles like crosswords like stimulating with games that you like, getting the brain active, the brain cells can find new nerves to grow.
So mental well-being and resilience is an eBook that will cover all of the things that to do with lifestyle, some of which include social connections, mental stimulation, physical activity, eating a healthy diet, good quality sleep etc. So a carer can kind of look at what might work for their loved one. But don’t forget the carer must look after themselves and their needs as well, because it can be very stressful taking care of some someone that has such high needs.
And remember in the first episode we talked about the dangers of stress and the hormone cortisol, and cortisol can kill brain cells it means stress itself has such a damaging effect on our mind and our body. So I hope that eBook gives you some big discussion points to kind of look at what might work for you and your loved one. To get the eBook you can go to drkarenwolf.org/resilience.