The menopause could make women more prone to Alzheimer’s disease than men, research suggests.
Middle-aged women were found to have more early signs of the dementia than men during brain scans – possibly because the menopause reduces their oestrogen level.
Researchers compared the women and men in four key areas of brain health to assess their risk of having Alzheimer’s biomarkers – and women scored worse in all of them.
New research suggests that women are more prone to Alzheimer’s than men due to the menopause reducing their levels of oestrogen
Scientists had thought more women got Alzheimer’s because they lived longer.
The study involved 85 women and 36 men with an average age of 52 and no cognitive impairment.
They had similar scores in memory tests and health measures, as well as family histories of Alzheimer’s.
They were given two different types of scan – including MRI – to see if their brain had any amyloid-beta plaques, which are the proteins associated with Alzheimer’s.
Lead author, Lisa Mosconi, of Weill Cornell Medicine in New York, said the research – published in the journal Neurology – could help to explain why two-thirds of those with Alzheimer’s are women.
She added: ‘Our findings suggest that middle-aged women may be more at risk for the disease, perhaps because of lower levels of the hormone estrogen during and after menopause.
‘While all sex hormones are likely involved, our findings suggest that declines in estrogen are involved in the Alzheimer’s biomarker abnormalities in women we observed.
‘The pattern of gray matter loss in particular shows anatomical overlap with the brain estrogen network.’
Researchers said one limitation of the study was that only healthy, middle-aged people without severe brain or cardiovascular disease participated.
It was previously believed by scientists hat women were more susceptible to the disease due to the fact they tend to live longer
Dr Sara Imarisio, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said larger studies are needed to test the theory further.
She said: ‘While women in the study were more likely to show brain changes usually associated with Alzheimer’s, we do not know whether they would have gone on to develop symptoms of dementia.
‘Although the researchers found that the menopause was the strongest predictor of these changes aside from sex, they cannot tell if this was down to hormone changes alone, as they did not measure this directly.
‘While there is no sure-fire way to prevent dementia, our brains don’t operate in isolation from the rest of our bodies and a good rule of thumb for everyone is that what is good for your heart is also good for your brain.
‘The best current evidence indicates as well as staying physically and mentally active, eating a healthy balanced diet, not smoking, drinking only within the recommended limits and keeping weight, cholesterol and blood pressure in check are all good ways to support a healthy brain as we age.’