1091: Optimize Your Brain Health & How To Prevent Alzheimer’s With Lisa Mosconi | School of Greatness with Lewis Howes

Key Takeaways

  • There are differences in the brain by sex: the X chromosome has nearly 1,000 more genes than the Y hormone (men have XY chromosomes, women have XX chromosomes)
  • Women’s brains use more estrogen, men’s brains use more androgens
  • There is evidence that plant-based diets are effective in supporting brain health in women
  • Five most antioxidant foods: (1) coffee (especially double espresso); (2) berries; (3) lemon in hot water first thing in the morning; (4) omega-3s; (5) dark leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables
  • Because of testosterone, men’s metabolism supports fat breakdown more efficiently than women’s bodies
  • For brain health, stay away from processed foods: the brains of people on the Standard American Diet look older than those on the Mediterranean diet based on brain scans
  • We should think of food as function, protection, and a tool to use for optimal health
  • Women want to leverage lifestyle factors to delay the onset of menopause as much as possible so estrogen levels don’t fall off early and can continue to support brain health – avoid smoking, manage stress, eat whole foods
  • Women who have hysterectomy or oophorectomy have a higher rate of Alzheimer’s
  • Spring water has more electrolytes than purified water and better for hydration


Dr. Lisa Mosconi, Ph.D. (@dr_mosconi), is the Director of the Women’s Brain Initiative and Associate Director of the Alzheimer’s Prevention Clinic at Weill Cornell Medical College (WCMC)/New York-Presbyterian Hospital. Among her many accolades, Dr. Mosconi is author of New York Times bestseller THE XX BRAIN: the Groundbreaking Science Empowering Women to Maximize Cognitive Health and Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease

In this episode of School of Greatness, Lewis Howes and Dr. Lisa Mosconi discuss the difference between men’s and women’s brains, how to optimize brain health, foods to eat and stay away from, the causes of brain fog and much more.

Host: Lewis Howes (@LewisHowes)

Brain Differences By Sex

  • From conception, functional differences exist in the brain of men and women largely because of chromosomal differences – men have XY chromosomes, women have XX chromosome
  • The x chromosome has almost 1,000 genes more than the Y chromosome
  • Women’s brains use more estrogen, men’s brains use more androgens
  • Estradiol – the most important form of estrogen – plays a critical role in the immune system, brain plasticity, and energy production in the brain
  • Androgens decline slowly over time – men can remain fertile through the 70s and 80s
  • Estrogen declines much faster in mid-life which impacts the functionality of the body and brains
  • Important for brain health across both sexes: healthy diet, exercise, sleep, stress reduction

Food & Diet To Support Brain Health

  • Every day, at every meal we have several chances to make the right choice
  • There is evidence women benefit from a plant-based diet – possibly because there is estrogen in plants which are needed as natural estrogen levels in the body decrease over time
  • In women, there is a strong correlation between antioxidant intake and brain energy levels
  • For men, consumption of polyunsaturated fats is important
  • Testosterone makes men incredibly good at burning fat
  • Estrogen in women is a carb-loving hormone so women are better at burning carbohydrates than fat
  • Some high-fat diets work better for men than women
  • The brain is wired to run on glucose which creates free radicals and oxidative stress so we need to reduce oxidation through diet
  • Clinically, people who consume antioxidants are protected from neurological disorders but studies haven’t been able to replicate the effect
  • Most powerful antioxidant foods:
    • (1) coffee – specifically double espresso
    • (2) berries – 2-3 servings per week (goji berries, blackberries, mulberries, blueberries)
    • (3) lemon in hot water first thing in the morning
    • (4) omega-3’s – stick to SMASH fish – sardines, mackerels, anchovies, salmon, herring
    • (5) dark leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables
  • Coffee intake is personal depending on how your body reacts
  • Women: when estradiol levels are high in the first half of the cycle, caffeine response is more sensitive; the second half of the month caffeine response is blunted
  • There are diminishing returns with coffee and the brain – don’t want to consume more than 2 cups per day
  • Hot water is a vasodilator so hydrates more than cold water
  • “Supplements do not replace foods – you want to improve your diet so your body can supply the nutrients you need.” – Dr. Lisa Mosconi
  • Two servings of fish per week decrease the onset of dementia by 70%
  • Fiber supports gut health and has an important modulating effect on hormones in the body. You can get it from leafy greens, legumes, cruciferous vegetables

Foods To Avoid For Optimal Brain Health

  • Avoid processed foods
  • The Standard American Diet (SAD) is bad for the brain
  • Brain on Mediterranean diet versus SAD: brains of people on a Western diet look older based on brain scans
  • SAD is associated with the early onset of Alzheimer’s plaques and lesions in middle age

Importance Of Water

  • Water powers every chemical reaction in the brain – dehydration can cause brain fog
  • Water: you need to hydrate with electrolytes – just purified water isn’t enough
  • Spring water contains more electrolytes than purified water
  • Caffeine is dehydrating, make sure to drink water after

Can You Reverse Alzheimer’s Plaque?

  • Vaccines are in the works to remove plaques but have failed clinical trials
    • The plaques are removed but the symptoms don’t go away
  • The scientific community is moving towards the prevention of plaques since no treatment is available
  • Alzheimer’s drugs slow progression but do not cure it

Alzheimer’s Paradigm Shift

  • We used to think of Alzheimer’s as an inevitable part of aging
  • We now understand that only 2% of Alzheimer’s cases are genetically inherited
  • Multi-factorial causes of Alzheimer’s: family history, lifestyle, environment, hormones – especially for women
  • More women than men have Alzheimer’s disease most likely because of estrogen drop during menopause
  • Women need to think about Alzheimer’s in mid-life and leverage lifestyle to delay menopause as much as possible – barring genetic factors or pathology
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Notes By Maryann

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