Table Set for One May Be Tough on Women’s Hearts

Steven Reinberg wrote . . . . . . . . .

Eating alone may be a recipe for heart trouble if you’re an older woman, Korean researchers suggest.

Those who eat by themselves are likely to eat faster and less healthily, which can lead to weight gain, higher blood pressure and cholesterol levels, increasing the risk for heart disease, the new study found.

“Women who live alone, who aren’t cooking for a family or their husband, tend to eat more poorly,” said Dr. Jennifer Wu, an obstetrician-gynecologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.

They may also be less aware of healthier foods, which puts them at higher risk for health problems such as cardiovascular disease, said Wu, who had no part in the study.

Although the study was done in South Korea, Wu believes that the same phenomenon occurs in the United States among older people who live and eat alone.

The researchers also found that women who eat alone tend to suffer from depression, which is another risk factor for heart disease.

Wu thinks that eating less nutritious foods is the root cause of the increased risk for heart disease among these women.

“When you’re only one person, you tend to order restaurant food, which tends to be higher in fat and sugar and salt, because it’s a lot of trouble to cook a whole meal for one person,” Wu said.

But a poor diet can be the gateway to a slew of health problems, she added.

For the study, a team led by Han-Gyo Choi, from the Catholic University of Korea in Seoul, looked at nearly 600 women aged 65 or older. The researchers compared the health behaviors and nutrition between women who ate alone and those who ate with others.

The investigators found that older women who ate alone ate fewer carbohydrates, dietary fiber, sodium and potassium than those who ate with others. Also, the women who ate alone were nearly three times more likely to have angina, a symptom of coronary artery disease.

Samantha Heller, a senior clinical nutritionist at NYU Langone Health in New York City, noted that nearly 80% of the women who ate alone were widowed.

“These women may be more depressed, financially strapped or fearful of going out. It would not be a stretch to suggest that these problems also apply to senior men living alone,” said Heller, who was not involved in the study.

She believes that neighbors and communities can help by reaching out to older people, especially those who live alone.

“Public programs such as senior centers, libraries and other organizations need to make ongoing efforts to reach out to their communities and encourage seniors to engage in safe social activities,” Heller noted.

Many senior centers offer in-person or virtual low-cost fitness classes, social meet-ups, cooking demonstrations, meals and more, she said.

“As individuals, we can check in on our neighbors and friends, and offer to drop off some food, go out for a meal or have a virtual meal and share some healthy recipes or take a walk. If possible, engage them in community efforts such as serving meals at a soup kitchen or helping out at a food pantry,” Heller suggested.

Older folks who live alone can also take part in virtual meet-ups via the internet or phone calls with other singles to share experiences, exchange ideas and offer support, she added.

“Reaching out and helping others helps us feel better, too,” Heller said. “During this pandemic, we have experienced just how important social interactions are for our mental and physical well-being,” Heller said.

The report was published online in the journal Menopause.

Source: HealthDay

For Women, Greater Exposure to Estrogen in Life May Protect Brain Regions That Are Vulnerable to Alzheimer’s

The drop in estrogen levels that occurs with menopause brings declines in the volumes of “gray matter,” the cellular matter of the brain, in key brain regions that are also affected in Alzheimer’s disease. But a new study from Weill Cornell Medicine researchers, in collaboration with the University of Arizona, suggests that greater cumulative exposure to estrogen in life, for example from having had more children or from having taken menopause hormone therapy, may counter this brain-shrinking effect.

The findings, reported in Neurology, come from an analysis of personal histories, MRI scans and cognitive tests on 99 women in their late 40s to late 50s. The researchers confirmed an earlier finding linking menopause to lower gray matter volume (GMV) in brain areas that are also vulnerable to Alzheimer’s. But they also linked indicators of higher overall estrogen exposure, such as a longer span of reproductive years (menarche to menopause), more children and the use of menopause hormone therapy and hormonal contraceptives, to higher GMV in some of these brain areas.

The study was an observational study rather than a clinical trial, but it adds to the evidence that estrogen may have a protective effect on the female brain, limiting the loss of gray matter that normally comes with menopause, and thereby potentially reducing Alzheimer’s risk.

“Our findings suggest that while the menopause transition may bring vulnerability for the female brain, other reproductive history events indicating greater estrogen exposure bring resilience instead,” said study senior author Dr. Lisa Mosconi, an associate professor of neuroscience in neurology at Weill Cornell Medicine and director of the Women’s Brain Initiative, and associate director of the Alzheimer’s Prevention Clinic at Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center.

Researchers estimate that nearly two thirds of those living with Alzheimer’s in the United States are women. The higher prevalence of Alzheimer’s in women may be due in part to women’s greater longevity, among other reasons. A leading hypothesis is that that vulnerability relates to estrogen.

Receptors for estrogen molecules are found in cells throughout women’s brains, and the sex hormone has long been known not just to help steer brain development and behavior but also generally to have a nourishing and protecting role in the central nervous system. That protection doesn’t last forever, though. Estrogen levels decline steeply during the transition through menopause, and as recent research from Dr. Mosconi and others has shown, women tend to experience significant GMV loss during this transition.

The volume loss occurs especially in brain regions that are the most heavily affected in Alzheimer’s, and at roughly the same time of life when the long, slow process of late-onset Alzheimer’s is believed to start. Thus, women’s mid-life loss of estrogen may be a key factor behind the higher risk of Alzheimer’s.

The flip side of this hypothesis is that more estrogen, in particular a cumulatively greater estrogen exposure, could serve as a counter to the brain-weakening effect of menopause. That possibility is what Dr. Mosconi and her team sought to investigate in the new study.

The analysis covered 99 women aged 46-58 and a comparison group of 29 similarly aged men. It confirmed that the post-menopausal and peri-menopausal (starting menopause) women, compared with the pre-menopausal women and the men, had significantly lower GMV—adjusted for age and head size—in brain areas such as the hippocampus, entorhinal cortex and temporal lobe regions, which are heavily affected by Alzheimer’s.

By contrast, among the women, having more estrogen exposure as implied by various factors was associated with greater GMV in certain brain areas. Longer reproductive span, for example, was significantly linked to more GMV in a cluster of regions near the top of the brain including the superior parietal lobule and precuneus of the left hemisphere. Having had more children was significantly associated with more GMV in inferior and middle frontal gyri, and middle and inferior temporal gyri. Having used hormone replacement therapy was associated with more GMV in superior frontal gyrus and several other brain regions. All these brain regions are known to be affected by aging and Alzheimer’s.

The results support the idea that estrogen can be protective, the researchers say, and suggest that further investigation of the specific biological pathways underlying this effect could yield medical or lifestyle changes that help women reduce their risk of cognitive decline with aging as well as Alzheimer’s dementia risk.

“We’re hoping now to get further into the details of these links between estrogen and GMV, for example by comparing the effects of surgical menopause and spontaneous menopause, and by focusing specifically on certain types of estrogen exposure, such as menopause hormone therapy,” said study first author Eva Schelbaum, research assistant in Dr. Mosconi’s laboratory. “The goal as always is to understand why Alzheimer’s affects more women than men, and how we can reduce that risk.”

Source: Weill Cornell Medicine

How Alzheimer’s Disease Affects Women

Gina Shaw wrote . . . . . . . . .

More than 6 million people 65 and older have Alzheimer’s disease, and almost two-thirds of them are women, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. That discrepancy is explained in part by the fact that women tend to live longer than men: The risk of Alzheimer’s doubles every five years after age 65. After age 85, it’s nearly one in three.

But that’s not the whole story, experts say. “The increased prevalence is not just because women live longer; our research shows it’s also because they can start the disease earlier,” says Roberta Diaz Brinton, PhD, director of the Center for Innovation in Brain Science at the University of Arizona and a leading neuroscientist in the field of Alzheimer’s and the aging female brain. “The menopause state in midlife is associated with a decline in the brain’s ability to utilize glucose as its primary fuel and an increase in neuro-inflammatory responses in the brain. That combination is a dual hit for the female brain.”

Other factors are probably at play as well. For example, the majority of Alzheimer’s caregivers—more than 60 percent—are women, and studies have found that individuals who care for a partner with dementia have a greater risk of developing the disease themselves. “Caregiving takes a huge toll on women’s health,” says Liliana Ramirez-Gomez, MD, a neurologist in Massachusetts General Hospital’s memory disorders, comprehensive neurology, and behavioral neurology units. “Women caregivers have higher rates of mood and stress disorders and sleep disturbances, all of which are risk factors for dementia.”

Studies also have found that women who worked outside the home experienced slower memory decline later in life, findings that build on other research suggesting that the mental stimulation of a job may help build cognitive reserves against dementia. “In the middle of the 20th century, women were participating in the workforce at much lower rates than they do today, and that could be a factor in dementia rates among older populations,” says Mary Ellen Quiceno, MD, FAAN, director of clinical research for the pharmaceutical company Janssen, where she leads trials of novel drug therapies for Alzheimer’s disease.

Other experiences in a woman’s life, such as pregnancy, also may contribute. “We know that cardiometabolic factors like high blood pressure and high cholesterol are associated with an increased risk of dementia,” says Michelle Mielke, PhD, professor in the departments of epidemiology and neurology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN. “But do high blood pressure and diabetes during pregnancy impact your later risk? We don’t know much about that. We need to take a life span approach to understanding Alzheimer’s risk among women, taking into account things like pregnancy history, contraceptive use, and menopause.”

A new report from Women’s Health Access Matters found that doubling National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding for women-focused Alzheimer’s research would pay for itself three times over. Currently, only 12 percent of NIH funding for dementia research goes to projects focused on women. The report suggests that an increased investment would add more than $930 million to the U.S. economy by reducing health care costs and time spent in nursing homes. It might also save both women and men from experiencing Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias.

“There is now a major emphasis on looking at women’s risk of Alzheimer’s disease, especially during the menopausal transition,” says Dr. Quiceno. “We need women, and particularly women of color, to be involved in clinical trials to help us understand these risk factors and whether or not new drugs will work for them. We want to be able to tell people what they can do about their brain health in a way that’s specific to them, to provide the right advice and the right treatments.”

Dr. Ramirez-Gomez encourages her patients to protect their brains by getting regular exercise; eating a healthy, mostly plant-based diet; preventing or controlling high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes; sleeping seven to eight hours a night; challenging their brains with a new hobby or a stimulating activity; managing stress through meditation or mindfulness; and engaging socially.

“And if you are a woman caring for someone who has Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia, take care of yourself,” she says. “It’s so important to have an extended network of support to help provide care for the person living with dementia. The stress on you really can take a toll on your physical health. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.”

Source: Brain&Life

Study: Avocados Change Belly Fat Distribution in Women

Liz Ahlberg Touchstone wrote . . . . . . . . .

An avocado a day could help redistribute belly fat in women toward a healthier profile, according to a new study from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and collaborators.

One hundred and five adults with overweight and obesity participated in a randomized controlled trial that provided one meal a day for 12 weeks. Women who consumed avocado as part of their daily meal had a reduction in deeper visceral abdominal fat.

Led by Naiman Khan, an Illinois professor of kinesiology and community health, the researchers published their study, funded by the Hass Avocado Board, in the Journal of Nutrition.

“The goal wasn’t weight loss; we were interested in understanding what eating an avocado does to the way individuals store their body fat. The location of fat in the body plays an important role in health,” Khan said.

“In the abdomen, there are two kinds of fat: fat that accumulates right underneath the skin, called subcutaneous fat, and fat that accumulates deeper in the abdomen, known as visceral fat, that surrounds the internal organs. Individuals with a higher proportion of that deeper visceral fat tend to be at a higher risk of developing diabetes. So we were interested in determining whether the ratio of subcutaneous to visceral fat changed with avocado consumption,” he said.

The participants were divided into two groups. One group received meals that incorporated a fresh avocado, while the other group received a meal that had nearly identical ingredients and similar calories but did not contain avocado.

At the beginning and end of the 12 weeks, the researchers measured participants’ abdominal fat and their glucose tolerance, a measure of metabolism and a marker of diabetes.

Female participants who consumed an avocado a day as part of their meal had a reduction in visceral abdominal fat – the hard-to-target fat associated with higher risk – and experienced a reduction in the ratio of visceral fat to subcutaneous fat, indicating a redistribution of fat away from the organs. However, fat distribution in males did not change, and neither males nor females had improvements in glucose tolerance.

“While daily consumption of avocados did not change glucose tolerance, what we learned is that a dietary pattern that includes an avocado every day impacted the way individuals store body fat in a beneficial manner for their health, but the benefits were primarily in females,” Khan said. “It’s important to demonstrate that dietary interventions can modulate fat distribution. Learning that the benefits were only evident in females tells us a little bit about the potential for sex playing a role in dietary intervention responses.”

The researchers said they hope to conduct a follow-up study that would provide participants with all their daily meals and look at additional markers of gut health and physical health to get a more complete picture of the metabolic effects of avocado consumption and determine whether the difference remains between the two sexes.

“Our research not only sheds a valuable light on benefits of daily avocado consumption on the different types of fat distribution across genders, it provides us with a foundation to conduct further work to understand the full impact avocados have on body fat and health,” said study coauthor Richard Mackenzie, a professor of human metabolism at the University of Roehampton in London.

“By taking our research further, we will be able to gain a clearer picture into which types of people would benefit most from incorporating avocados into their diets and deliver valuable data for health care advisers to provide patients with guidance on how to reduce fat storage and the potential dangers of diabetes,” Mackenzie said.

Source: University of Illinois at Urbans-Champaign

Postmenopausal Women Can Dance Their Way to Better Health

Women often struggle with managing their weight and other health risk factors, such as high cholesterol, once they transition through menopause. A new study suggests that dancing may effectively lower cholesterol levels, improve fitness and body composition and in the process, improve self-esteem. Study results are published online today in Menopause, the journal of The North American Menopause Society (NAMS).

After menopause, women are more likely to experience weight gain, overall/central body adiposity increases, and metabolic disturbances, such as increases in triglycerides and bad cholesterol. Together, these changes ultimately increase cardiovascular risk. Around this same time, women often are less physically active, which translates into reductions in lean mass and an increased risk of falls and fractures.

As a result of all these changes, postmenopausal women often suffer from decreased self-image and selfesteem, which are directly related to overall mental health.

Physical activity has been shown to minimize some of the many health problems associated with menopause. The effect of dancing, specifically, has already been investigated with regard to how it improves body composition and functional fitness. Few studies, however, have investigated the effects of dance on body image, self-esteem, and physical fitness together in postmenopausal women.

This new study was designed to analyze the effects of dance practice on body composition, metabolic profile, functional fitness, and self-image/self-esteem in postmenopausal women. Although the sample size was small, the study suggested some credible benefits of a three-times-weekly dance regimen in improving not only the lipid profile and functional fitness of postmenopausal women but also self-image and self-esteem.

Dance therapy is seen as an attractive option because it is a pleasant activity with low associated costs and low risk of injury for its practitioners. Additional confirmed benefits of regular dancing include improvement in balance, postural control, gait, strength, and overall physical performance. All of these benefits may contribute to a woman’s ability to maintain an independent, high-quality lifestyle throughout her lifespan.

Study results are published in the article “Dance practice modifies functional fitness, lipid profile, and self-image in postmenopausal women.”

“This study highlights the feasibility of a simple intervention, such as a dance class three times weekly, for improving not only fitness and metabolic profile but also self-image and self-esteem in postmenopausal women. In addition to these benefits, women also probably enjoyed a sense of comradery from the shared experience of learning something new,” says Dr. Stephanie Faubion, NAMS medical director.

Source: The North American Menopause Society