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Hormonal Treatment and Dementia Risk

A recent study claims a link between hormonal treatment and Dementia. So what is the truth behind the headlines? 

Research published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) has sparked renewed interest and debate regarding the potential connection between menopausal hormone therapy (MHT) and the risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease

This research study aimed to shed light on a topic that has long been a subject of concern and uncertainty for women considering or using hormone therapy. 

WellFemme Associate Dr Marita Long, from Dementia Training Australia, had this to say: “From what the experts are saying (eg. Prof Sue Davis) it’s based on old data, so mainly oral forms of MHT. It’s a correlation, not causation.

It may well be that the women who are taking MHT are the women with bothersome symptoms, and that may be the link to dementia-not the MHT itself.”

She also said: “We do not advise MHT for prevention of chronic disease. If women are worried about dementia, there’s better “bang for buck” in addressing established risk factors”. You can hear more from Dr Long on this topic in our “Dementia Risk and Brain Glitches at Menopause” webinar video.

For more insight into the complexities of interpreting the data from the BMJ’s article, have a read of Dr Jen Gunther’s great editorial in “The Vajenda”.

For people who are very concerned about their dementia risk, Dr Long recommends the CogDrisk Dementia risk assessment tool to estimate their risk at age 65 if they don’t modify their risk factors.

While Alzheimer’s has been shown to disproportionately impact females, it’s not just because they generally live longer than men. Age is a primary risk factor for Alzheimer’s in women, but there are also other contributing health factors, such as:

  • Genetics and hormones; menopausal hormonal changes, particularly the loss of estrogen, may increase the susceptibility to Alzheimer’s.  The hormone FSH, which rises during peri menopause, is linked to the onset of Alzheimer’s and cognitive impairment.
  • Brain differences; the brains of affected individuals exhibit distinct characteristics, such as beta-amyloid plaques, tau protein tangles and neuroinflammation. Studies have revealed a female bias in developing these characteristics.
  • And of course, there are the varied factors of individual habits and lifestyle.

The great news is that we can lower our risk, by focusing on factors that we can control. In fact, according to the Alzheimer’s Society, UK: “…regular exercise can significantly reduce the risk of developing dementia by about 30 per cent. For Alzheimer’s disease specifically, the risk was reduced by 45 per cent.” Thats a HUGE reduction!

Other risk-reducing factors include a varied and nutritious diet, maintaining a healthy weight, good quality sleep, keeping our minds active with puzzles and memory games, and controlling other conditions that may contribute to Alzheimer’s, such as diabetes, heart disease and depression.

For more information about Dementia visit the Dementia Australia website.

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