New findings suggest that the secret to preventing Alzheimer’s disease in women relies on how much estrogen they can stockpile as they grow older.
Factors such as taking hormonal pills, therapy during menopause, having more children mean that a woman can accumulate more estrogen in her lifetime. Also, according to the Weill Cornell Medicine and University of Arizona researchers, the longer the menstruation a woman has led to more cumulative estrogen.
Researchers also have determined that the cumulative estrogen stored by a woman through the years could be a preventative tool to battle the loss of cellular gray matter in the region of the brain that Alzheimer’s causes.
“Our findings suggest that while the menopause transition may bring vulnerability for the female brain, other reproductive history events indicating greater estrogen exposure bring resilience instead,” Dr. Lisa Mosconi, Study Senior Author, said. Mosconi is also an associate professor of neuroscience in neurology at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City and director of the Women’s Brain Initiative at New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center. In the study conducted, the researchers have gathered and studied MRI scans, personal histories, and cognitive tests of 99 subjects between 46 and 58 years old. For comparison, they also looked at 29 men of similar ages. The results illustrate that women who had started menopause had lower gray matter volume in the entorhinal complex, temporal lobe regions, and hippocampus, which are significantly affected by Alzheimer’s compared to premenopausal women and the men included in the study.
Also, women who have more exposure to estrogen during their lifetime tend to have a more gray matter volume in clusters of essential brain regions.
Although the study conducted was not a clinical trial but an observational one, the researchers, still confirm that estrogen may protect women from Alzheimer’s.
Eva Schelbaum, Study First Author and Mosconi’s research assistant, stated, “We’re hoping now to get further into the details of these links between estrogen and [gray matter volume], for example by comparing the effects of surgical menopause and spontaneous menopause, and by focusing specifically on certain types of estrogen exposure, such as menopause hormone therapy. The goal as always is to understand why Alzheimer’s affects more women than men and how we can reduce that risk.”
Today, about two-thirds of the people in the United States diagnosed with Alzheimer’s are women.
The study authors now have a leading hypothesis that the disease is greatly correlated to estrogen loss. They also noted that a woman’s longevity might also be related.
Did you know that estrogen has a protective and nourishing role in the central nervous system and helps steer brain development and behavior? The researchers now further their study on this underlying effect.