Study finds link between menopause timing and Alzheimer’s disease

Study finds link between menopause timing and Alzheimer’s disease

It’s one of the many enduring mysteries of Alzheimer’s: why women seem so much more prone to the disease than men.

“So two-thirds of Americans who have Alzheimer’s are women,” said Nicole McGurin of the Alzheimer’s Association of Massachusetts and New Hampshire. “At age 45, the lifetime risk of developing Alzheimer’s is one in five for women and only 1 in 10 for men.”

One possible contributor to the numbers: women tend to survive longer than men.

“The research is mixed on whether this difference in life expectancy explains the gender differences,” McGurin said. “There is a lot of research that points to the reasons why men and women develop Alzheimer’s may be different.”

At this point, new research suggests that a life transition that only women can go through may be a contributor to dementia.

“What we found is that if women started earlier, premature menopause, they are more likely to have deposits of the neurotoxic Tau protein in the brain,” said Gillian Coughlan, MS, PhD, a researcher at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Tau proteins are found in normal brain cells, but when they become abnormal or neurotoxic, several diseases can result, including Alzheimer’s.

“Premature menopause or even early menopause can put women at a higher risk of developing dementia in the future,” Coughlan said.

Premature menopause occurs before the age of 40. Early menopause begins between the ages of 40 and 45.

The study also looked at the role that hormone replacement therapy may have in the development of dementia. HRT is known to be recommended to women to ease menopausal symptoms – but it’s out of favor because previous studies have shown it can increase the risk of breast cancer and cardiovascular disease in the long term.

Its role in dementia appears to be related to when it is first dosed.

“Women are looking for ways to manage menopause symptoms and doctors are prescribing hormone replacement therapy,” Coughlan said. “Which seems to be OK as long as it’s done within five to 10 years of the onset of a woman’s menopause.”

The story continues

But the study cannot determine how helpful HRT is in preventing dementia when given early – although it did not appear to be harmful. Other studies have shown that HRT, given long after menopause, may contribute to the development of dementia.

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