Writers don’t just stay home all day and write.
Sometimes, we’re fortunate enough to go out to interesting events and meet interesting people.
VERY interesting people.
Yes, that’s me with Maria Shriver!
The occasion was the Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement (WAM) luncheon, where grants were awarded to the brilliant researchers who are on the cutting edge of brain science. They’re all looking into different aspects of Alzheimer’s disease in a quest to find ways to prevent – and eventually, eradicate – the disease, the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S.
A staggering fact: Every 65 seconds, another person develops Alzheimer’s.
Even more startling: Two out of three people with Alzheimer’s are women, and as women, our brains face unique risks.
Maria founded this non-profit organization to raise awareness and educate the public about the disease and learn how to take steps toward safeguarding their brain health. (In 2003, her father, Sargent, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and passed away from it in 2011.)
“Sure, research exists…but research into women’s health is way behind,” she told me, resulting in a lot of misinformation. “Hopefully, the knowledge will result in better treatments for women, and in changing the conversation into a positive one. Fashion magazines tell us how to dress for every decade; we want to teach women to care for their brains in their 20s, 30s, 40s and beyond.”
In the past, the fact that more women than men were affected by Alzheimer’s was explained away by the fact that women live longer than men. Not. So. Fast. There are many much more complex factors at play.
Women’s brains and men’s brains are not created equal. Women’s brains age differently – and faster – than men’s (especially true during the menopausal transition). That’s something one of the many dynamic researchers, Lisa Mosconi, PhD., explained to me that day. Lisa directs the Women’s Brain Initiative research program at Weill Cornell Medical, where she is also an associate professor of neuroscience and associate director of the Alzheimer’s Prevention Clinic (how she has time to sleep eludes me!). Much of her work focuses on examining brains, through brain-imaging technology, of living patients in order to gain a better understanding the difference between women and men’s brain health. Her passion for studying the brain stems partly (like Maria’s) from witnessing the devastation from Alzheimer’s in her own family.
There are distinct pathways in women’s brains to developing Alzheimer’s, as there are distinct junctures in a woman’s medical journey that may contribute to her risk of developing it. Researchers are casting a wide net; looking into the role of hormones (changes in estrogen levels during menopause can make us more vulnerable to developing Alzheimer’s); the gut microbiome (its bacteria contains clues to diseases throughout the body – including the brain); levels of Tau proteins (a bad protein that builds up in Alzheimer’s) in the brain; how breast cancer therapies might up the risk of developing Alzheimer’s later in life; as well as the role of sleep, activity and diet in how they impact brain health and inflammation.
Lisa’s new book, The XX Brain, was written to inspire and empower all of us to learn ways to take charge of our brain health and keep it functioning at maximum capacity. The important thing to remember is that IT’S NEVER TOO LATE TO START TO TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF. Genes count for a lot, but they are not destiny. Your environment, lifestyle, medical history and hormonal health are important players, too.
When you think about it, men and women’s bodies react so differently to so many things: the way we metabolize alcohol and drugs, for instance. (Fact: Women have almost double the chance of an adverse drug reaction than men. The dosing recommendations for Ambien were cut in half for women after finding that women reach maximum blood levels at much lower doses than men. Women on the drug were more likely to sleep-walk, sleep-eat and sleep-drive…because they were being overmedicated! )
So it’s no surprise that Alzheimer’s would affect us differently, too.
One important thing you can do for your brain is to feed it well. The Mediterranean diet has been found to not only decrease the risk of diseases like cardiovascular disease and diabetes and help promote healthy blood pressure, but it may also reduce the risk of cognitive decline: Brain imaging studies have found that people who followed this type of diet had healthier and younger-looking brains than people of the same age who had been eating a Western diet, notes Lisa in her book. High in fiber and complex carbs, moderate in fats (mostly unsaturated and of vegetable origins) and plentiful in vitamins and minerals, it is extremely brain-healthy.
Another? Get moving! Brain scans show that sedentary people, compared with physically active ones, show more cellular aging and brain shrinkage plus a much higher number of Alzheimer’s plaques. “A sedentary lifestyle triggers adverse brain changes in people as young as 30, 40 and 50, far ahead of time,” notes Lisa.
And you can’t underestimate the value of other lifestyle factors in protecting your brain – like sleep, stress reduction, caring for your teeth and gums, not smoking and engaging your intellect.
I AM GIVING AWAY ONE COPY OF LISA’S IMPORTANT AND INFORMATIVE BOOK. TO ENTER, PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT AND SHARE HOW YOU ARE TAKING CARE OF YOUR BRAIN. (PLEASE MAKE SURE TO INCLUDE YOUR EMAIL IN THE COMMENT – IT WILL NOT BE SEEN BY OTHERS – SO I CAN CONTACT YOU FOR YOUR ADDRESS, IF YOU WIN.)
CONTEST CLOSES FRIDAY, MARCH 27 AND IS OPEN TO U.S. RESIDENTS ONLY.
PS. My heartfelt thanks to Maria, her WAM team and all the researchers for working so hard to understand and eradicate Alzheimer’s!
Joan Pagano says
Thank you, Sheryl! Such important information to share, how the best defense against getting Alzheimer’s is a healthy offence – establishing a practice of self-care that includes movement, nutrition, sleep, stress management and everything in moderation.
Great photo of you with Maria!! This is just ONE more thing for us women to worry about…so I have switched to a plant-based diet and have been feeling much more energetic than ever! Thanks for the article. xoxo
Irene S. Levine says
Sounds like a great event! I play Words with Friends to keep my brain healthy!