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Alzheimer's Disease and Estrogen

Overview & Description

Recent research suggests a possible link between the hormone estrogen and Alzheimer's disease in women. Alzheimer's disease is a common, progressive, degenerative disease of the brain. It is characterized by loss of memory and other cognitive functions.

Menopause is a stage of life when a woman stops having periods and her body makes little estrogen. When this occurs, women are often advised to take estrogen as a part of a regimen of hormone replacement therapy.

What is the information for this topic?

Research suggests a possible role for estrogen in preventing Alzheimer's disease in women. Some research showed that women who took estrogen after menopause were less likely to develop Alzheimer's disease. It also suggested that Alzheimer's disease might occur later in life among women who take estrogen. Women who have never taken estrogen may have Alzheimer's disease at an earlier age. This research, however, was limited and of less-than-ideal quality.

Other research done with animals suggested that estrogen may have the following effects:

  • prevent the death of some brain cells
  • lessen deposits of a material in the brain that affects brain cell function. These deposits may help cause Alzheimer's disease.
  • Some limited research has looked at using estrogen to treat the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease after they occur. However, one year of treatment had no effect on Alzheimer's disease. Currently, it appears that estrogen cannot treat Alzheimer's disease after it develops.

    Some large research studies are now investigating the following:

  • Can estrogen truly can prevent Alzheimer's disease in women?
  • What is the best dose of estrogen to use?
  • The results will not be available for several years.

    Any woman thinking about using estrogen must remember that it has risks and benefits. Like any other medication, it has possible side effects. For example, estrogen can increase the risk of cancer of the uterus if a woman has not had her uterus removed. This risk can be eliminated if a woman who still has her uterus takes a form of the hormone progesterone along with estrogen.

    Many experts advise women to take estrogen after menopause. For many women, the benefits are thought to outweigh the risks. Estrogen therapy helps with symptoms of menopause, such as hot flashes and vaginal dryness. Estrogen therapy also has the following important health benefits:

  • It can reduce the risk of the bone-thinning condition called osteoporosis and broken bones that can result from that disease.
  • It can improve cholesterol levels.
  • It may help ward off heart disease.
  • All women should discuss estrogen use after menopause with their healthcare providers to decide if the benefits outweigh the risks for them. New data about the risks and benefits are still being generated. Estrogen may turn out to be a new tool to prevent Alzheimer's disease. At this time, though, not enough data supports its use to prevent or treat Alzheimer's disease.



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