Estrogen Supplements May Reduce Dementia Risks
Two recent studies show a possible benefit of estrogen supplements in menopausal women to reduce dementia risk. These studies are very important because women are living longer and any improvement in mental function or delay in the onset of dementia could provide great benefit for women.
Loss of ovarian hormone production following menopause or surgical ovarian removal, results in important changes throughout the body. Bone density decreases, osteoporosis develops and more fractures occur. Hot flashes, mucus membrane dryness, reduced libido, hair loss, skin wrinkling, all become issues. The list goes on. Some problems related to estrogen loss seem minor, but decreasing risks for heart disease, osteoporosis and dementia are major considerations for long term health.
In the past, physicians provided prescriptions for hormone replacement therapy (HRT) for women following menopause. In the summer of 2002, physicians stopped prescribing hormone replacement therapy after the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) concluded the risks of estrogen treatment far outweighed its benefits. The large WHI study also reported the combination of estrogen plus progestin not only increased the risk of both breast cancer and heart disease, but women had an increased risk for dementia.
The following studies suggest estrogen alone (without progestin) may be beneficial for the brain and memory and not detrimental as the WHI study reported:
+ Neurobiology of Aging published a Norwegian study where researchers studied MRI scans of women taking estrogen. They found an important area for memory, the hippocampus, showed preserved brain volume in women who started taking estrogen supplements before or at the beginning of menopause and continued for a number of years. Since the hippocampus is the area affected in the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, the findings in the Norwegian study are hopeful.
+ The National Proceedings of Science reported that a team of scientists at Guelph University in Ontario studied the effect of estrogen on synapses in mouse brains, the location where brain cells communicate. Within minutes of an estrogen injection, a large increase in synapse activity occurred in the hippocampus. Boosting estrogen levels may help strengthen brain connections and result in improved learning and memory. Human studies are needed to validate their findings and any long term benefit.
WHI conclusions are being revisited by practicing physicians and research groups. Estrogen replacement in women may once again be prescribed as an anti-dementia aid. However, if a woman has had clots, strokes or cancer, estrogen is not appropriate.
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