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Published on: September 18, 2013
by Jayne MacAuley for Zoomers:
“When I was studying [medicine], we saw women as little men in drag,” Liberal health critic Dr. Hedy Fry dryly reminded politicians and their aides, who packed the Senate’s Banking Committee Room last May for the introduction of the Women’s Brain Health Initiative (WBHI), a new national charity. “No one understood the depth of the differences between men and women,” she explained.
That scientific apathy surrounding gender difference had incensed Lynn Posluns, founder of the initiative. “It’s frightening to learn that almost 70 per cent of new Alzheimer sufferers will be women and that women suffer from depression, stroke and dementia twice as much as men,” she told the politicos.
Guest speaker Jens Pruessner, PhD, director, McGill Centre for Studies in Aging in Montreal, an expert on the effect of stress on the brain, gave one example of why there is a need to do research in women’s brain health. Estrogen protects women’s brains from the negative effect of the stress hormone, cortisol, but as estrogen wanes after menopause, this effect disappears. An enzyme in men’s brains, however, continues to convert some testosterone to estrogen, safeguarding a man’s brain cells.
As we talk later, Pruessner tells me, “I think [Posluns’ work] is a wonderful initiative. We need someone of sufficient motivation and energy.”
Not everyone launching a new charity can garner the support of the likes of Senator Linda Frum and Rona Ambrose, then minister of status of women and minister of public works, who co-hosted the Parliament Hill event. Posluns has been a friend of Frum’s for years, and Ambrose, now minister of health, has a history of involvement in groups working to end violence against women. Nevertheless, Posluns was blown away by the turnout of politicians that included Alice Wong, minister of state for seniors, Sen. Art Eggleton (Lib), MPs Elizabeth May (Green), Libby Davies (NDP), Candice Bergen (Con) and speakers Fry and Niki Ashton (NDP). Impeccably attired in a tailored taupe suit softened by a floppy silk flower, she’d worn a slightly anxious look before the guests arrived, prompted by warnings that attendance for such events on the Hill could be sparse. Then, after plunging into a brief patch of French, she charmed the bilingual audience by concluding, “Learning another language can add three to five years to cognitive reserves.”
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