Alzheimer's and Menopause
Why are women twice as prone to Alzheimer’s as men? That’s the question that Dr. Lisa Mosconi, Associate Director of the Alzheimer's Prevention Clinic of the Department of Neurology at Weill Cornell Medical College, decided to investigate.
There are many factors that could be involved, one of them being women’s longevity over men, meaning that this is a disease that affects mainly individuals in their 80s and up. Perhaps men die before experiencing the changes in their brain. But Mosconi thought differently. She wondered if menopause was to blame for the high numbers of women succumbing to Alzheimer’s.
First we have to acknowledge that Alzheimer’s can start years (!!) before symptoms become evident. Second, we must recognize that the hormonal changes in menopausal women affects their brains.
I can think of no worse fear for a female family caregiver than the idea that this disease is stealing her silently away and that all those instances of forgetting names, words, directions, are pernicious signposts of worse to come. Trust me, this is a big, horrible fear. Every small slip in my memory makes me anxious.
How and to what extent the chemical changes in a woman’s brain may or may not cause her to develop Alzheimer’s is not yet understood. What Mosconi pointed out in the interview I read was that for many years, diagnosing Alzheimer’s was insensitive to the subtle changes occurring in women; often, they would score well cognitively on tests despite the fact that they clearly were not functioning in other aspects of their lives. We have only been able to see the plaques in a person’s brain for the last ten years, and it is possible that had this technology been available earlier, many more women would have been diagnosed earlier and would have been prime recipients of treatments that are specifically for those in the early stages of the disease. The corollary is that men often respond better to these treatments than women because their symptoms are noticed earlier and treatments are given before their brains age considerably. Mosconi calls out the “severely gender-biased” basis for this testing that is finally being acknowledged.
The interview I read with Mosconi has been reverberating in my brain for a while now. I’m not sure there’s much I can do to ascertain whether my individual brain is being affected by menopause, and if so, how. What I am doing is incorporating the types of activities that have been touted as preventative into my lifestyle: exercise, healthy eating, keeping my brain nimble.
I am aware that any and all research on Alzheimer’s will benefit the next generation—perhaps even people in their 50s and 60s (gulp, my age). But hope that drugs or other treatments will reverse Mom’s Alzheimer’s are pie-in-the-sky. Therefore, I watch and listen and take every announcement of new theories or vaccines or effective drugs with a grain of salt. The promise they hold out is tangible. I pray someone gets it right soon.
The first time I tried this “exotic” squash, I was amazed by how sweet and delicious it was. And you eat the rind! It was easy to make and even easier to eat. I do love trying new foods. New can often be good, hopeful and healthy. This squash is not a panacea or even a super food (like kale), but it’s a great addition to a healthy meal.
Japanese Kobacha Squash
I’ve only seen the orange Kobacha squash in Israel, but from what I’ve read, the general color of this squash is green. The inside, regardless, is a lovely muted orange.
1 squash, sliced into wedges
1-2 Tbsp olive oil
½ tsp garlic granules
Salt and pepper to taste
Heat oven to 420° F / 200° C. Cut squash in half and remove seeds. Slice into wedges with rind and in a large bowl, rub each slice with oil and spices. Place on baking tray covered with baking paper. Cook for 30 minutes or until a knife can easily poke the rind. Serve hot.