Looking Beyond A Diagnosis (7-Minute Read)

Brain health for women and how hormones play a role we need to look beyondthe diagnosis
Connie Pretula Headshot

Connie Pretula

Connie Pretula is an inspiring health coach and Menopause Navigator to mature women, using a holistic approach to nutrition and life.

October 24, 2023

I have been thinking a lot about brain health lately, perhaps because it is talked about so often these days.

There are many conditions that can affect our brain; depression, attention issues, dementia, tumours, Alzheimer’s, strokes, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, and Multiple Sclerosis, to name a few. A startling fact is, more women are affected by these conditions than men which makes me curious.

A dear friend and fellow nutritionist, Sharon Summerfield, recommended a book called The XX Brain by Lisa Mosconi, PhD. Dr. Mosconi talks about the changes a woman’s brain goes through as her hormones change. Alzheimer’s does have a genetic connection but there is also a hormonal connection.

Two-thirds of the people over 65 with Alzheimer’s, are women.

When my mom had her stroke in March 2019, I decided I wanted to know more about my genetics which I talked about in my June 7, 2023 newsletter. I was relieved to see I don’t have the Alzheimer’s gene but I am at higher risk for cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes which still leaves me at risk of a stroke.

My training as a holistic nutritionist encourages us to go deeper, go beyond the condition or diagnosis itself.

Each weekday, I do a live segment on Instagram. Yesterday, I talked about some of the other factors I believe have an impact on women’s brains. Here is the link if you want to hear what I talked about https://www.instagram.com/reel/CywPbrDPI3Z/?igshid=MzRlODBiNWFlZA==

As women, I believe we have more chemical exposure from cleaning products we use in our homes plus clothes cleaned at the dry cleaners. The products we use on our hair, face and body, especially on our underarms, one of the body’s lymph node clusters, we cover them in a chemical soup every day. Add in high levels of stress from our careers, running a household and potentially caring for aging family members.

All of these factors can cause imbalances in our hormones which can, in turn, increase our risk for disease.

I have had many women tell me they are concerned about their memory. I believe more women are thinking about this because brain diseases are being talked about more often.

There is another factor but I wonder how many of us take it seriously? Technology!

Gone are the days of the rotary phone without voicemail, you had to be home to receive the call. I have met people who can’t imagine leaving home without their phone. We can be connected to some form of technology from the moment we wake to the moment we go to sleep. If you wear a fitness tracker or smartwatch, you are connected 24/7.

We can have multiple notifications coming from multiple devices, our smartwatch/fitness tracker, our phone, our tablet, our computer, and our TV. If the blinking VCR clock used to annoy you, now there are multiple sources blinking at you.

I started turning off notifications on many of my phone apps at least 4 years ago. Then I started putting my phone on silent when I was spending time with friends, now it is on silent all the time. During the day when I am working on my laptop, I have notifications turned off there as well.

One of the main reasons I decided to turn everything off was because I had squirrel syndrome (if you have or have had a dog, you know what I mean), similar to shiny object syndrome and some are equating it to classical conditioning or Pavlov’s dog experiment. Every bing, buzz, tweet, and red notification, had me jumping from one thing to another. I found I was so distracted, I could not focus, I was constantly losing my thought process and not getting anything done.

Women are famous for multi-tasking, unfortunately, it is also very hard on our brains, we are not doing ourselves any favours.

Combine all of those distractions, multi-tasking, exposure from all kinds of chemicals, then add in being sleep-deprived because you are going to do one last thing before you go to bed and now it’s midnight… It’s not the best way to support our brain and expecting it to work optimally.

Sometimes, all of the knowledge I gained while going to holistic nutrition school and all of the research I have done since then, let’s just say it can have me analyzing my symptoms, often.

I noticed I was starting to be forgetful on occasion and needing to write things down. When I was distracted, I had a hard time remembering what I was thinking about prior to that.

Rather than go down the path of, it’s starting, this is the beginning of the decline in my memory, I decided to be more mindful.

Now when I’m distracted, when I return to what I was doing, I take a mindful moment. I stop and say to myself, what was I thinking about? I don’t allow myself to do anything but take a moment to think and I can remember exactly what I was thinking about before the distraction.

Technology is tiring, it has a lot of light coming from the screens we are staring at, including the TV, they are brighter and have more definition than ever before. We have access to trillions of pages of information on the World Wide Web, are our brains really meant to take it all in? Our email inbox can be a never-ending rabbit hole that we can get lost in for hours. If we don’t give ourselves a cut-off time and head to bed at a decent hour to get at least 7 hours of sleep, our brain will not be able to keep up with what we demand of it every day.

Being a holistic nutritionist, I have to talk about the food choices we make every day. There are very few people on this earth who eat perfectly all the time. Unfortunately, we are also bombarded with convenient delicious temptations everywhere we go and the majority of them are not the best options for our overall health, especially our brain.

Dr. Mosconi and many other practitioners recommend the Mediterranean way of eating and for many years, the focus was on the benefits of olive oil. Then studies showed the benefits of nuts such as walnuts which are high in omega 3 fats, of course, fish provide omega 3s as well. Grains are a staple in the Mediterranean diet, so a modified version is now recommended with more of a focus on increasing vegetables and reducing grains.

Another important factor, and if you have traveled to Europe you would be familiar with this, is the time that is taken to enjoy a meal with friends or family. They truly honour that time even in the restaurants that cater to the tourists. I was amazed when I saw how all the staff and the owners sit down and enjoy a meal after the lunch rush and before the dinner rush, a strange concept in North America.

Now, after saying all of the above, I’m not saying that there aren’t health conditions that can affect our brains, there definitely are. I am saying, we need to be kinder to our brains if we want them to work well for a very long time, this goes beyond being diagnosed with a condition.

I always focus on what my health goals are and I make regular choices to help me maintain and achieve those goals.

Paraphrasing a Hippocrates quote I read recently “before healing someone, ask them if they are willing to give up the things that made them sick”. I know many people who do not live by the name of the diagnosis their doctor gave them. They look at how they can live their best life and the lifestyle changes they need to make in order to do that.

If you are interested in finding out more about the DNA Labs testing I offer or want to explore making lifestyle changes to establish or support your health goals, I offer a free consultation. Here is the link to find a time that is convenient for you.

Thank you for reading my words.

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