Using oral hormone pills might be linked to an increased Alzheimer’s risk in postmenopausal women, a Finish study reported on Wednesday.
The researchers looked at around 85 thousands postmenopausal women, aging from 70 to 80, who are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s from 1999 to 2013. The study found that using hormone therapy in more than 10 years in those who started the therapy before the age of 60 had a 9% to 17% increased risk for the condition.
“It made us conduct research on Alzheimer to see whether the same results kept persisting, but hormonal therapy didn’t seem to provide a protective effect on the disease,” said Dr. Tomi Mikkola – lead author and supervisor in the Helsinki University’s clinical research.
The specific causes behind this result are still elusive, but a possible reason might be the biological differences between vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s, Mikkola said.
“Alzheimer’s is a totally different form of the disease since we still do not know the underlying mechanism of this condition. All we know is that this disease might start decades before we can see signs of memory loss,” he said.
Perhaps the hormone therapy might speed up the progression of this disease, Mikkola added.
Alzheimer’s is one of the most common causes of death in the US. Nearly six million people have been diagnosed with this disease – more than 60% are women – with 200,000 under 60. By 2050, it is estimated that this number would rise to almost 14 million.
Over the past few years, significant attention has been devoted to the importance of menopausal hormone treatment. Two studies in 2017 reported that the period when women start to generate less estrogen, often in the 40s, might be an important point in whether they would develop Alzheimer’s disease or not. These researchers came to the conclusion that estrogen helps to protect women’s brain by keeping its health and stimulating growth. But the natural decline in the hormone during menopause results in a loss of a protection layer.
Mikkola believes that most women who are under the 60s can safely get short courses of hormone treatment for menopause symptoms.
“Women shouldn’t use hormone treatment for the expressed purposes of attempting to minimize cognitive decline or improve memory. Instead, they should use it for early menopause since benefits are certain to outweigh the risks for short-term therapy,” said Manson.
The study was published by the University of Helsinki in BMJ on Wednesday.