New research shows that menopause has the potential to raise a woman’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, due to loss of estrogen.
Alzheimer’s, the most common form of dementia, predominantly affects people 65 and older. Although well-known, the condition has remained a mystery, the primary cause or causes are mostly unknown.
New findings, published in the journal of Neurology, are poignant and progressive.
Alzheimer’s; the disease that was long considered as an inevitable result of ageing and genetics, has now been found to be more prevalent in women who have experienced menopause.
It is already known that women are more likely to have Alzheimer’s than men, making up two thirds of those living with the neurocognitive disorder worldwide.
This has frequently been explained via the generally longer lifespan of women compared to men, completely dismissing the importance of female biology.
Misconceptions of the differences between men and women are a sad yet recurring theme throughout the history of women’s health, but with this new research, a hopeful new perspective.
Co-author of the report, Lisa Mosconi, associate director of the Alzheimer’s Prevention Clinic of Weill Cornell Medical College, says findings show Alzheimer’s to be triggered in women years before any signs of the disease appear; during perimenopause, the period of transition into menopause.
Common symptoms of menopause are drying out of the hair and skin, which we have come to recognise as familiar causes of ageing.
However, few are aware that it causes the same thing in the brain. Our brain cells start to “dry out”, they start to age faster.
Basically, the cause is loss of estrogen.
Estrogen dramatically decreases during menopause.
Being a neuroprotective hormone, when it declines, it leaves the brain in a more vulnerable state.
Roberta Diaz Brinton, the director of the Center for Innovation in Brain Science at the University of Arizona, was the first researcher to study estrogen depletion thirty years ago. “Menopause is like puberty,” she says. It changes the brain forever.
“The loss of estrogen means that glucose metabolism in the brain, its primary fuel, is reduced by about 20 to 25 percent.”
While this new study has not provided a sure-fire way to prevent Alzheimer’s, we can start to see that the health of the brain and heart are closely linked, regardless of sex. Generally, what is good for the heart is good for the brain.
All the healthy lifestyle choices we have heard millions of times, are not to be overlooked. As well as staying physically and mentally active, eating a healthy balanced diet, not smoking, drinking within the recommended limits and keeping weight, cholesterol and blood pressure in good health are all equally important to support our bodies as we age.
As far as researchers can tell, menopause is more of a trigger than a cause, not just for Alzheimer’s, but for cognitive fog in general.