The Link Between Alzheimer’s and Menopause

While looking at the numbers, it is clear that more women are affected by Alzheimer’s than men. This has led researchers to focus on key hormonal and metabolic differences. More specifically, the link between neurodegeneration and menopause.

Could a loss of estrogen increase a woman’s risk?

The Potential Link Between Menopause and Alzheimer’s

Both menopausal and perimenopausal women experience metabolic changes in the brain. It is believed that these changes may make women more vulnerable to the development of Alzheimer’s.

This was discovered by researchers at Weill Cornell Medicine, in collaboration with scientists from the University of Arizona Health Sciences. Their findings were published in PloS One.

They stated that after old age, being a woman is the second greatest risk factor for developing Alzheimer’s. After all, approximately two-thirds of those living with Alzheimer’s in the United States are female. Although the mechanisms associated with this increased risk are not fully understood, cerebral glucose metabolism may play a key role.

To study this potential variable, the researchers observed forty-three women between the ages of 40-60 years old. These women were considered to be cognitively “normal” and represented three transition stages. These included premenopause controls, as well as perimenopause and postmenopause participants.

Using positron emission tomography imaging, it was found that perimenopausal and postmenopausal women showcased significantly lower glucose metabolism levels. Since previous research has shown that low levels of glucose precede the development of Alzheimer’s, and may even trigger neurodegeneration, menopause could provide new clues.

In comparison to the control group, postmenopausal and perimenopausal women also displayed mitochondrial dysfunction. The researchers concluded that the greatest window of opportunity for therapeutic intervention is early in a woman’s endocrine aging process.

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Could Estrogen Therapy Lower Your Risk?

Throughout the available Alzheimer’s research, estrogen has long been a hot topic of conversation.

While focusing on a possible solution, researchers studied the impact of estrogen therapy on Alzheimer’s risk and amyloid-beta deposits. Although these steroids have been shown to offer potent neuroprotective benefits, this topic remains controversial.

When given estrogen early in menopause, women experienced a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s. However, estrogen therapy has also been shown to shrink the brain.

This evidence came from the WHIMS trial after analyzing the MRI scans of 1,400 women. Five years later, half of these women returned. The researchers were surprised to find that brain volume shrank in women who were on estrogen therapy and were also diabetic. Among those who were not diabetic, their brain volume only decreased slightly.

Once again, this points to possible metabolic issues in relation to Alzheimer’s risk.

Related: The Connection Between Sugar Intake and Dementia Strengthens

Timing May Affect Prevention

It is well understood that each individual is unique in terms of their physiology. This means that while dealing with specific health concerns, including neurological conditions, there is not generally a “one size fits all” approach to treatment.

While studying hormone therapy, individual differences could play a role but so could timing. It has been reported that hormone therapy may be most effective when initiated close to the onset of menopause.

It is also worth mentioning that when implemented in late menopause, some women experience an increased risk of coronary heart disease.

Most recently, it has been concluded that hormone therapy offers more benefits than risks. The ideal time to seek hormone therapy is when a woman is under the age of 60 or within 10 years after stopping menstruation. Studies have found that when women receive hormonal therapy between the ages of 70 to 79, strokes become more common. This could lead to an increased risk of vascular dementia.

Take Action Today

Although it is recommended that you speak with you physician regarding the potential health benefits of hormone therapy, be mindful of the risks. When it comes to prevention, begin with variables you can control. Whether that means altering your diet or becoming more physically active, the decisions you make today will dramatically impact your risk in the future. 

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Krista Hillis has a B.A.Sc degree, specializing in neuroscience and psychology. She is actively involved in the mental health and caregiving community, aiming to help others. Krista is also passionate about nutrition and the ways in which lifestyle choices affect and influence the human brain.

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