Published on: May 7, 2013
by Canada AM:
Women are twice as likely as men to become victims of aging brain disorders, such as Alzheimer’s and dementia. So, why is most of the research done using male brains?
That’s what Lynn Posluns wondered while working as a fundraiser with the Baycrest Foundation, a health centre in Toronto that focuses on aging. She discovered to her surprise that most of the research for brain aging diseases still focuses on men’s brains.
Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia are scary to anyone, Posluns told CTV’s Canada AM Monday. “But what was more scary was learning that 70 per cent of new Alzheimer’s sufferers would be women, that women suffer from stroke, depression and dementia twice as much as men but the research still focuses on men,” she said.
What Posluns learned is that researchers studying brain diseases and behaviour changes tend to use male rats because the hormones in the female rats make then too complex.
“Because of the hormones affecting a woman’s cycle, twice as much money has to go into studying women than men, to level out the hormone problem,” Posluns says. “But just because we’re more complex and it would cost more to study females more than males doesn’t mean you should discount half the population when you’re doing any kind of research.”
Posluns says women’s hormones appear to play a big role in their brain health and should be included in that kind of research. For example, she’s learned that women who have a hysterectomy and a oophorectomy (in which both ovaries are removed) are at a much higher risk of dementia over the course of the rest of their lives. It’s important, she says, to find out why.
“People have to understand what the implications are when you take out a body part; it could in fact affect your brain health later,” she says.
With no one focusing on women’s brain health, Posluns launched the Women’s Brain Health Initiative to raise money to fund research into women’s brain aging disorders and to even out the gender research gap. She’s hoping the initiative can help uncover why dementia affects more women than men, and why strokes and depression affect them more as well.
As well, she hopes the initiative will help to educate people – both women and men – that dementia is at least partly lifestyle-related and that there’s a lot that people can do to stay brain healthy.
Posluns says there’s an acronym that describes the pillars of maintaining brain health, and it’s dubbed, ironically, MENS. It stands for:
Mental activity – research shows that it’s important to regularly exercise the brain with challenging tasks
Exercise – regular exercise helps with cell regeneration and blood flow to the brain
Nutrition – a low-fat Mediterranean style diet appears best for preventing brain disease, since what’s good for your heart is good for your brain
Social life – do what you love with those who you love
Older people who report greater levels of social engagement have more robust gray matter in regions of the brain relevant in dementia, according to new research led by scientists at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of...
In a new study, University of Nebraska–Lincoln sociologist Marc A. Garcia explored how educational attainment can benefit cognitive health in later life, and whether there are differences in its benefits among minorities. Garcia and his co-authors...
A genetic variation in some people may be associated with cognitive decline that can’t be explained by deposits of two key proteins associated with Alzheimer’s disease, amyloid β and tau, according to a study...
The material presented through the Think Tank feature on this website is in no way intended to replace professional medical care or attention by a qualified practitioner. WBHI strongly advises all questioners and viewers using this feature with health problems to consult a qualified physician, especially before starting any treatment. The materials provided on this website cannot and should not be used as a basis for diagnosis or choice of treatment. The materials are not exhaustive and cannot always respect all the most recent research in all areas of medicine.