• Women account for nearly 80% of all autoimmune diseases. This vulnerability is linked directly to biology.
• One of the reasons for this vulnerability has to do with the way women store vitamins and minerals in their bodies.
Research has confirmed that women tend to live longer than men but typically have higher rates of autoimmune diseases.
However, new research from University of Georgia suggests the diseases can be mitigated by a better diet.
If women add bright-coloured fruits and vegetables such as yams, kale, spinach, watermelon, bell peppers, tomatoes, oranges and carrots to their diet they may help in preventing cognitive loss.
"The idea is that men get a lot of the diseases that tend to kill you, but women get those diseases less often or later so they persevere but with illnesses that are debilitating," said Billy Hammond, co-author of the study.
"For example, of all of the existing cases of macular degeneration and dementia in the world, two-thirds are women. These diseases that women suffer for years are the very ones most preventable through lifestyle."
The study, which reviewed and analysed data from previous research , detailed several degenerative conditions, from autoimmune diseases to dementia that, even controlling for lifespan differences, women experience at much higher rates than men.
"If you take all the autoimmune diseases collectively, women account for nearly 80 per cent. So, because of this vulnerability, linked directly to biology, women need extra preventive care," Hammond said.
How does gender affect health?
One of the reasons for this vulnerability has to do with the way women store vitamins and minerals in their bodies.
Hammond points out that women have, on average, more body fat than men.
Body fat serves as a significant source for many dietary vitamins and minerals, which creates a useful reservoir for women during pregnancy.
This availability, however, means less is available for the brain, putting women at higher risk of degenerative diseases.
Dietary intake of pigmented carotenoids act as antioxidants for humans.
"Men and women eat about the same amount of these carotenoids, but the requirements for women are much higher," Hammond said.
"The recommendations should be different, but there are, generally, not many recommendations for men or women for dietary components that are not directly linked to deficiency disease (like vitamin C and scurvy).”
"Part of the idea for the article is that recommendations need to be changed so that women are aware that they have these vulnerabilities that they have to proactively address, so they don't have these problems later in life."
Hammond says that components of the diet influence the brain, from things like personality to even our concept of self.
“I don't think people quite realize what a profound effect diet has on basically who they are, their mood, even their propensity to anger," Hammond said.
"And now of course this is extended to the microbiome and the bacteria that make up your gut. All of these components work together to create the building blocks that compose our brain and the neurotransmitters that mediate its use."
The research was published in the journal Nutritional Neuroscience.