There has been a lot of speculation as to why Alzheimer’s disease affects more women than men. In fact about two-thirds of all Alzheimer’s cases are women and it is the only neurological disease that affects more women than men. Some theorize that because women live longer than men they have a higher rate of Alzheimer’s disease. Another theory that has been rolling around for several years is that the reduction of the female estrogen hormones at the menopause may trigger the onset of dementia. Thus, research has focused on the association between estrogen and Alzheimer’s disease.
Research Shows that Estrogen can Protect against Alzheimer’s Disease in the Lab
Studies in the lab have shown that estrogen is protective of the brain and has an anti-oxidant effect.
However, estrogen to prevent or treat Alzheimer’s disease (AD) would have to be taken over a long period of time and this could lead to uterine cancer and/or prothrombic events like blood clots that could get lodged in the lung or lead to a stroke in the brain. Obviously, something to protect against the development of Alzheimer’s disease would have to be taken early in menopause in order to be effective. Thus, researchers are looking for a kind of estrogen or certain compounds found in estrogen that could safely be used over a long period of time without the risks for uterine cancer or dangerous blood clots.
Phytoestrogens from Medicinal Herbs in the Plant World
Researchers are also searching among phytoestrogens (plant estrogens) from the plant world to see if there could be a safe estrogenic substance that could be taken over a long time without leading to uterine cancer or the formation of blood clots. However, some of these medicinal herbs are also not safe to take over a long period of time and some have other kinds of potentially dangerous side effects such as licorice root. Licorice root is a very rich source of estrogen and licorice has long been known in folk medicine for promoting fertility, balancing the menstrual cycle and as a remedy for hot flushes associated with the menopause. However, whole licorice root cannot be taken safely in large amounts or over a long period of time, as it can raise blood pressure. High blood pressure is a risk for heart attacks, strokes and kidney disease. Also, consuming too much licorice root or taking it over a long period of time can lead to a very serious disease state that can be life-threatening called rhabdomyolysis. This causes damage to muscle tissue in the body, especially the muscles of the kidneys that can lead to kidney failure. This condition usually clears up once the person stops eating licorice root. Another potentially dangerous side effect in licorice root is an anti-platelet mechanism that can lead to bleeding. No one should take any medicinal herbs without consulting their doctor.
Plant Food Sources for Estrogen
The following plant foods contain estrogen or estrogenic-like isoflavones and are considered safe to be eaten:
Soybeans, soybean sprouts, tofu – Research has shown that soybeans contain considerable amounts of two estrogen-like isoflavones called genistein and daidzein that can promote weak estrogenic activity or anti-estrogenic activity. Soy is found generously in Asian diets and is believed to be the reason for the low rate of breast cancer in Asian women. Tofu is a popular Asian food made from soybean curd. Research has shown mixed results regarding the possibility that soy might be beneficial for cognitive function. Some research showed a beneficial effect on cognition and memory, while other studies showed no benefits. More research is needed to make any positive conclusions about the benefits of soy for cognitive and memory function.
Extra virgin olive oil contains Vitamin E, which can help to promote the formation of estrogen in the body. On another note, extra virgin olive oil has been show to improve memory function in a human trial in Italy. See our blog post from March 16, 2018 about how extra virgin olive oil prevented memory decline in seniors. Also, countries that mainly use extra virgin olive oil as the main oil and fat in their diet have a lower rate of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia than countries who do not consume olive oil.
Legumes like chick peas, split peas and lentils
Oil seeds like flaxseed and sesame seeds
Nuts like pistachio, hazelnuts, walnuts and cashews
Fruits and dried fruits like prunes and apricots
Memory Care at the Van Duyn Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing in Syracuse, New York
If your loved one has Alzheimer’s disease and is in need of a good rehab for memory loss, the Van Duyn Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing in Syracuse, New York offers excellent memory care together with skilled nursing at the hands of a warm and caring staff. Van Duyn also has a fantastic array of recreational activities and musical activities like sing-alongs that can help trigger old memories.
Until further research can determine whether or not estrogen therapy can be used safely to treat Alzheimer’s disease, it is best to follow a good diet that includes lots of fresh and dried fruits, nuts, soybeans, sesame seeds, whole grains and extra-virgin olive oil.