The Alzheimer’s-Estrogen Connection You Need To Know About

Photo: Cinemalist

By the year 2050, the United States will have 14 million people in need of full-time care for Alzheimer’s disease, a number equal to the populations of New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago combined. There’s no doubt about it: Preventing and treating Alzheimer’s and dementia is more urgent than ever, and every piece of information we have is vitally important to solving the puzzle that is dementia and neurodegenerative disease.

This is just one reason why new research presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference that showed a link between Alzheimer’s and female sex hormones is something we should all pay attention to. According to recent studies, women are less likely to develop dementia if they begin to menstruate early, have more than one child, and go through menopause at an older age. In fact, going through menopause at age 45 or younger seemed to increase a woman’s risk of developing the disease by as much as 28 percent.

We’ve long known that women are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s (at the age of 65, women have a 1 in 6 chance of developing Alzheimer’s, compared to a 1 in 11 chance for men), and for a long time it was thought that this connection exists simply because women tend to live longer. But now, researchers have homed in on this link to hormones like estrogen and progesterone as a possible explanation. Experts are still puzzled as to why this connection exists, and there are a few theories out there. One posits that it’s less about the hormones themselves and more about the dramatic changes in hormone levels a woman experiences throughout life.

The research in this area is still in the initial phases, but one possible solution to the Alzehiemer’s-hormone problem could be hormone replacement therapies (think creams, gels, and patches infused with hormones like estrogen and progesterone). These therapies come with their own set of risks and unknowns; some experts swear by it for age-related hormone symptoms like vaginal dryness and hot flashes, and others caution against them since a study linked them to an increased risk for certain cancers and other illnesses (including, ironically, dementia). But now, researchers are thinking it could help temper the dramatic hormone fluctuations that occur during menopause, specifically to help prevent Alzheimer’s.

So what can we do to prevent Alzheimer’s today? For starters, we can tend to our gut health and microbiome. Of all the organs, experts think that the brain suffers most from a poor diet, and studies have shown that certain gut microbes act directly on brain cells to quell inflammation and keep us healthy. So ditch sugar, refined grains, and processed foods in favor of healthy, gut-friendly foods like nuts, seeds, leafy greens, and fruits. And keep your ears tuned in, the research in this area is moving quickly so better brain health may be right around the corner.


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