Last month at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Chicago, studies were presented in relation to lower hormone levels contributing to the possible risk of dementia.
One study, “Women’s Reproductive History and Dementia Risk”, which looked at 15,000 women in California, showed that women were less likely to develop dementia later in life if they started menstruating earlier and went through menopause later. Menopause at age 45 or younger increased risk by 28%. Also, the risk of Alzheimer’s for women who had 3 or more children was 12% lower than those women who had one child.
Another study out of the U.K., Women’s Pregnancy History May Influence Alzheimer’s Risk through Alterations in Immune Function, of 133 elderly women, supported these findings. They looked at the number of months of pregnancy in their lives and found the higher the number, the lower the rate of Alzheimer’s.
One presenter remarked that the intense fluctuations of hormones related to menopause may be associated with an increased risk of Alzheimer’s.
While it’s not clear if estrogen replacement protects against dementia after menopause, there is supportive evidence that if given to women in their early 50’s, estrogen and progesterone prevent the hormonal fluctuations, hot flashes, and sleep disturbance that could be associated with dementia. The benefits of giving hormones after 65 are murky, in that there may be an increased risk of dementia, heart disease, and breast cancer. In this age group, it is recommended to look at each case individually, depending on other medical conditions, and to use the lowest possible dose with a safer delivery system, like transdermal estrogen and natural micronized progesterone. Some conditions that could benefit from hormone replacement later in life include multiple sclerosis, chronic pain syndromes, osteoporosis, or the continuation of severe hot flashes.