New study reveals why women are more likely to get Alzheimer’s

Study hints at menopause being a major player in cognitive decline.

two middle aged women socialising at home

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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    COMMENTS

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    Hardworker
    29th Jun 2020
    11:17am
    Dr Lisa Mosconi's book "The XX Brain" is available at Big W for $25 in Brisbane. An interesting read.
    Fedup
    29th Jun 2020
    11:28am
    So how exactly do you “track your risk” and “effectively plan for prevention”. I don’t even know what that means.
    Muttonbird
    29th Jun 2020
    2:45pm
    It's false reassurance on their part. Not a lot we can do except follow the standard health guidelines. Too late to get into HRT I believe. Typical lack of research into crucial women's issues.
    Hardworker
    29th Jun 2020
    4:52pm
    Fedup - if you read Dr Mosconi's book it will tell you how. No matter how old you are now it is never too late to start living a healthy and therefore happy lifestyle with a good diet and exercise. Your local library may have a copy of her book if you don't wish to purchase it.
    Fedup
    29th Jun 2020
    6:49pm
    Hardworker, Thanks.
    Dinkydee
    29th Jun 2020
    11:30am
    I am in the 30% risk category due to my mother’s suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. As I am now 72, is there any point in tracking my risk and if so, how to do this? Would HRT have been beneficial after menopause?
    Muttonbird
    29th Jun 2020
    2:49pm
    There was this massive HRT scare about breast cancer in the early 2000s. A lot of us quit taking HRT then. They've since backtracked on new evidence, but I believe it's too late for us oldies now. Just keep exercising and eating well - that can help everything else, so why not AD.
    jan
    29th Jun 2020
    11:36am
    All the women on my mother's side of the family have dementia. Guess I should enjoy my self while I can. I believe you make more oestrogen when having sex, most women loose their libido on menopause.
    Loza
    29th Jun 2020
    2:06pm
    I will have to tell the better one about the oestrogen and how to get more
    Muttonbird
    29th Jun 2020
    2:54pm
    Hi Jan, my GP encouraged me to use Vagifem pessaries to prevent/imrove vaginal atrophy. It has made a huge difference to libido and comfort "down there". Took me a while to take his advice, but now highly recommended. You have to insert them several times a week, but no real hassle and it's worth it!
    Robyn
    29th Jun 2020
    2:15pm
    After an early menopause in my 40s I was on HRT until age 65. After that the doctor put me on an oestrogen pessary which at 80 I still use. As Alzeimer's runs in my family and I'm so far not affected, I think there is some validity in this study.
    jan
    29th Jun 2020
    3:57pm
    Thank you for the advise ladies, passaries made me bleed but did help. After seeing a lot of specialist who never understood why I bled, I eventually worked it out myself. I use half the dose of a HRT patches. They only got rid of the 2hrly hot sweats, other HRT problems still exist. My mum who as dementia had HRT till she was 80. She is now 84 and doctor wont give her the HRT anymore. Let's hope the HRT patch helps keep the dementia at bay.
    Cheezil61
    29th Jun 2020
    8:34pm
    One study that actually makes sense & I think they may be onto something here! Hoping for more in the way of prevention tho to make worthwhile
    aussiecarer
    2nd Jul 2020
    4:52pm
    I'm personally cautious about the any claims that the solution to Alzheimers is hormone replacement therapy. I'm cautious because three women I know all had hormone replacement therapy and they also all ended up with Alzheimers. Another man I know was given women's hormones to treat his cancer. On the second day of his treatment he developed sudden and lasting memory loss. Prior to the hormone treatment he had an above average memory and he was a computer programmer. His wife sayes if she could turn back time, she would have not let him have the treatment - she would have rather had six months with him where his mind was sound, than the three painful years she's had so far. these days he doesn't even recognize her and he's in a care home.


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