Recent studies confirmed that women are two times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease (the most common form of dementia) later in life than men, and hormonal changes are the likely determining factor.
Evidence obtained from a study over five years (2006-2001) suggests that menopause and other hormonal factors are the primary reason for the staggering statistics.
Women lose sex hormones such as estrogen when they undergo menopause, either naturally through the body’s decreased production or by removal of the ovaries via surgery. A new study has shown that women who underwent early (age 40 to 45) or premature (before age 40) menopause or women who began hormone replacement therapy more than five years after menopause had higher levels of tau in their brains, according to the study published in the journal JAMA Neurology.
Tau tangles, along with plaques made up of beta-amyloid proteins, are hallmark signs of Alzheimer’s disease.
“This is the first study showing a delayed use of hormone therapy seems to be associated with increased levels of Alzheimer’s disease markers in the brain,” said lead author Gillian Coughlan, a research fellow in neurology at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.
"When it comes to hormone therapy, timing is everything," co-author JoAnn Manson, MD, DrPH, who also was a lead investigator on the WHI (Women's Health Initiative), said in a statement. "Our previous findings from the WHI suggested that starting hormone therapy early in menopause, rather than late initiation, provides better outcomes for heart disease, cognitive function, and all-cause mortality -- and this study suggests that the same is true for tau deposition."
Lisa Mosconi, a neuroscientist and associate director of the Alzheimer’s Prevention Clinic at Weill Cornell Medical College previously explained this theory, stating that female reproductive hormones are protective agents to brain health.
“In women who are going through menopause, the brain starts showing reductions in brain energy levels, which correlates with the formation of amyloid plaques, or Alzheimer's plaques, in women's brains," she says.
She calls female hormones “superpowers” for brain health, warding off potential medical risks. When these superpowers are depleted during menopause, the female brain becomes vulnerable, and easily penetrable by the Alzheimer’s plaques.
She explains that for men this is biologically obverse, where women go through a period of hormonal loss, male testosterone levels stay predominately stable throughout their entire lifetime.
As such, Mosconi says "Menopause seems to be the turning point for these medical risks to become potential medical issues”.
Ways to Promote Brain Longevity
Understanding your hormonal cycle as a woman is one of the best ways to get on top of dementia risks early. Here are some preventative measures you can take to promote brain longevity:
- -Work with one of our providers to support healthy hormone levels
- -Practice daily habits that are good for brain health (e.g. physical activity, regular sleep, reading)
- -Consume Mediterranean-style diets that are high in fruits, vegetables, fish, nuts, and oils that have health benefits including reduced cardiovascular risk
- -See a neurologist to check for any signs of cognitive decline
- -Find out if you’re perimenopausal or postmenopausal, look into hormone therapy earlier rather than later
At Modern Women’s Health, we offer in-depth hormone testing and many treatment options including Biote, a bioidentical hormone replacement therapy designed to balance hormone levels. We encourage you to schedule a consultation to find out about Biote or other hormone replacement options, not only as a preventative measure in protecting your brain longevity, but also to help increase your energy, mental clarity, strength, mood, libido, and more. Request an appointment today! Call us at (512) 301-6767 or click the link below.