Menopause and Estrogen Decline Could Show a Link to Alzheimer’s Disease

woman completing puzzle in shape of head, with one piece missing

As pharma companies struggle with developing a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease, researchers continue to find evidence that links the dreaded form of dementia to other medical and health issues. The latest news suggests a potential link between Alzheimer’s and menopause.

The Wall Street Journal reported that researchers are beginning to examine whether or not hormonal changes related menopause contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s. About two-thirds of the people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s are women. Lisa Mosconi, director of the Weill Cornell Women’s Brain Initiative in New York City, a research program aimed at reducing Alzheimer’s risk, told the Journal that menopause does have some effect on the brain.

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According to the report, menopause affects the brain in various ways, including hot flashes, night sweats and memory changes. These symptoms are caused by declining levels of estrogen. It is estrogen that protects women’s brain from aging and stimulates neural activity, Mosconi told the Journal. According to the article, “studies show that when estrogen production declines during menopause, the brain’s metabolism appears to slow down and it becomes less efficient.” Additionally, the Journal said that estrogen could help prevent the buildup of tau proteins and amyloid plaques that many researchers have linked to Alzheimer’s disease.

During menopause, Mosconi said that women’s brains tend to age faster than men’s, which is likely related to the loss of estrogen. Mosconi was careful to note that menopause does not cause Alzheimer’s, but could accelerate the process in women who may be predisposed to the disease.

Now, there is a question if post-menopausal women who undergo hormone therapy will help prevent Alzheimer’s, or if it will put women at risk, the Journal said.

More research into this idea is needed and Mosconi has funding to look at hormonal and brain changes in both men and women at risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, the Journal reported.

Estrogen and Menopause are just two of the latest ideas surrounding the onset of Alzheimer’s in some patients. In January, BioSpace reported a potential link between Alzheimer’s and gum disease. Studies have described a link between Porphyromonas gingivalis (Pg), a bacteria that causes gingivitis, or chronic gum disease, and Alzheimer’s disease.

Researchers with the biopharma company Cortexyme published a study that showed evidence of Pg in the brain of Alzheimer’s patients. Additionally, in mouse models, the company noted that oral Pg infection led to brain colonization. That led to an increase in the production of amyloid beta, which is the protein closely associated with Alzheimer’s. Also, the Cortexyme researchers identified gingipains, the Pg’s toxic proteases, in the neurons of Alzheimer’s patients. As a result, the company designed a series of small molecule drugs that targeted Pg gingipains in hopes of showing efficacy in Alzheimer’s patients.

Sleep issues could also be associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Last fall, a study suggested an association between sleep problems and Alzheimer’s disease. As BioSpace reported at the time, the study found that “people who reported shorter sleep duration and poorer sleep quality had greater beta-amyloid deposits.” Older adults who felt tired during the day, beyond the simple desire to take a nap, “were three times more likely to have beta-amyloid accumulation in their brains.”

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