Early Menopause, Hormones & Other Female Alzheimer's Disease Risk Factors
Women are two times more likely1 than men to develop Alzheimer's disease, and scientists are starting to dig deeper into why the female sex is so much more susceptible.
Evidence suggests postmenopausal women are at much higher risk compared to men of the same age, and in a cross-sectional study published in JAMA Neurology this week, researchers from Mass General Brigham discovered other hormonal factors can increase women's risk of developing dementia2 even further.
Hormonal health factors & female Alzheimer's disease risk
The study analyzed 292 cognitively unimpaired men and women enrolled in the Wisconsin Registry for Alzheimer's Prevention between 2006 and 2021. The average age of participants during their tau PET scan was 67.
Researchers found participants with elevated Amyloid β protein (aka Aβ, a biomarker for Alzheimer's disease) that were female, used hormone therapy (in the past or during the study), and started menopause at an earlier age were significantly more likely to have higher regional tau PET (another biomarker for Alzheimer's disease). Of the women that used hormone therapy, the study found that starting five years or more after menopause was associated with higher tau PET than starting earlier.
As Lisa Mosconi, Ph.D., neuroscientist, nutritionist, and associate director of the Alzheimer's Prevention Clinic at Weill Cornell Medical College, previously explained in a mindbodygreen podcast episode, reproductive hormones help protect our brains from the development of amyloid plaques associated with Alzheimer's disease. As women hit menopause, their estrogen levels plummet, leaving their brains more susceptible to dementia.
How can women promote brain longevity?
As demonstrated by this JAMA Neurology study, hormone therapy can be a neuroprotective measure against Alzheimer's disease for women, when timed correctly (i.e., shortly after menopause).
Here are some other ways that women can help prevent dementia:
- Following the Mediterranean diet
- Working with an endocrinologist to support health hormone levels
- Seeing a neurologist if early signs of cognitive decline are evident
- Taking a targeted memory supplement with science-backed ingredients (like the neuronutrient citicoline, which has been shown to improve cognitive impairment in clinical trials)
- Practicing standard brain-healthy daily habits (e.g., physical activity, getting good sleep)
It's been well established that women are more likely to be diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, but new research from JAMA Neurology shows that hormonal health factors—including the timing of menopause and hormone therapy—play a part in the development of cognitive decline.
Morgan Chamberlain is a supplement editor at mindbodygreen. She graduated from Syracuse University with a Bachelor of Science degree in magazine journalism and a minor in nutrition. Chamberlain believes in taking small steps to improve your well-being—whether that means eating more plant-based foods, checking in with a therapist weekly, or spending quality time with your closest friends. When she isn’t typing away furiously at her keyboard, you can find her cooking in the kitchen, hanging outside, or doing a vinyasa flow.