Women live longer than men, but are sick more often. New research from the University of Georgia suggests that these higher disease rates can be improved through a better diet if this diet is rich in pigmented carotenoids such as yams, kale, spinach, watermelon, peppers, tomatoes, oranges and carrots. These colorful fruits and vegetables are essential to prevent vision loss and cognitive decline.
“The idea is that men are more likely to get fatal diseases, while women get these diseases less often or later, so they live longer but with disabling diseases,” says Billy R. Hammond, a professor at UGA’s Franklin College of Arts and the Department of Science. for psychology behavioral and brain science program and co-author of the study.
“For example, of all the existing cases of macular degeneration and dementia in the world, two-thirds are women. These diseases, which women suffer from for years, are best prevented by lifestyle changes.”
The study, which evaluated and analyzed data from previous studies, describes a variety of degenerative disorders, from autoimmune diseases to dementia, which are more common in women than in men, even when differences in life expectancy are taken into account. “If you take all the autoimmune diseases together, almost 80% are women. So because of this vulnerability, which is directly related to biology, women need extra preventative care,” Hammond says.
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 on average have more body fat than men. Body fat is an important storehouse of many vitamins and minerals in the diet, providing women with a useful reservoir during pregnancy. However, this availability means that less is available to the retina and brain, putting women at greater risk for degenerative problems.
The dietary intake of pigmented carotenoids acts as antioxidants for humans. Two specific carotenoids, lutein and zeaxanthin, are found in specific tissues of the eye and brain and have been shown to directly relieve degeneration of the central nervous system.
“Men and women eat about the same amount of these carotenoids, but the requirements for women are much higher,” Hammond says.
“The recommendations should be different, but there are generally no recommendations for men or women for dietary components that are not directly related to deficiency diseases (such as vitamin C and scurvy),” Hammond said. “Part of the idea of the article is that the recommendations need to be changed so that women are aware that they have these vulnerabilities that they need to address proactively so that they do not get these issues later in life.”
Carotenoids are also available through dietary supplements, and the National Institutes of Health has resources targeted at specific carotenoids through the National Eye Institute program. And while lutein and zeaxanthin supplements are a way to increase intake, Hammond says it’s much better to get these compounds through food.
“Elements of our diet affect the brain, from things like personality to even our perception of ourselves. I don’t think people are aware of the profound effect food has on who they are, their mood,” Hammond says. “And now, of course, this has expanded into the microbiome and the bacteria that make up your gut – all of these components work together to create the building blocks that make up our brains and the neurotransmitters that mediate its use.”
The study, “The Impact of Macular Carotenoids on Women’s Eye and Brain Health,” is published in Nutritional neuroscience.
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