Study hints at menopause being a major player in cognitive decline.
Around two thirds of Alzheimer’s sufferers are female, says a women’s brain health expert, and while this is often attributed to women living longer than men, her new study may prove otherwise.
“Our results show changes in brain-imaging features, or biomarkers, in the brain, suggesting menopausal status may be the best predictor of Alzheimer's-related brain changes in women,” explains neuroscientist Dr Lisa Mosconi.
Dr Mosconi’s study, which assessed the influence of gender on Alzheimer’s risk, analysed a group of men and women with similar scores on cognitive tests, and shared similar health indicators and genetic markers.
Participants were tested in four measures of brain health, including the amount of grey and white matter, amyloid-beta plaque levels (which are a marker for Alzheimer's), and how quickly the brain metabolises glucose.
It revealed that women tended to fare worse on all four measures.
Women had an average of 30 per cent more amyloid-beta plaques – believed to be the main component of Alzheimer’s disease – and their brains metabolised glucose at 22 per cent lower rates.
Volumes of grey and white matter in the female brain were both approximately 11 per cent lower. Loss of both grey and white matter volumes has also been linked to Alzheimer’s disease.
“Our findings suggest that middle-aged women may be more at risk for the disease, perhaps because of lower levels of the hormone oestrogen during and after menopause,” Dr Mosconi told mindbodygreen.
“While all sex hormones are likely involved, our findings suggest that declines in oestrogen are involved in the Alzheimer's biomarker abnormalities in women we observed.
“The pattern of grey matter loss, in particular, shows anatomical overlap with the brain oestrogen network.”
“[Yet] somehow, in the landscape of things that we’re told a woman should be concerned with, her brain has seldom been one of them.”
Dr Mosconi’s study shows this definite link between healthy brain ageing and gender and proves women should be as concerned with their health as they are with getting regular mammograms, pap smears and other women’s health-specific procedures.
And while Alzheimer’s is possibly the most concerning complication regarding women’s brain health, they’re not limited to just this disease.
“Women are twice as likely as men to have anxiety and depression, not to mention headaches and migraines,” said Dr Mosconi.
“But also, three times more likely to have an autoimmune disorder, including those that attack the brain like multiple sclerosis.
“Hormones are really important to give your brain energy. If your hormones are high, your brain energy is high. But then what happens to testosterone is that it doesn’t quite decline that much over time. Whereas for women, oestrogens pretty much plummet when women go through menopause [...] and the brain is left a little more vulnerable.”
Dr Mosconi recommends that women going through menopause should learn exactly what stage they are in and then investigate any family history of Alzheimer’s.
Rates of developing Alzheimer’s with a family history are “about 30 per cent for a maternal family history, and about 9 per cent for a paternal family history”, says Dr Mosconi, adding that women should start to track their risk at around age 40 or 50, to effectively plan for prevention.
Have you tracked your Alzheimer’s risk? Do you fall into any of these categories?
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