A team of researchers has discovered a connection between longer estrogen exposure indicators and reduced brain shrinkage in midlife women. The study, published in the scientific journal Neurology, aims to understand the impact of estrogen on brain health, particularly in relation to aging and Alzheimer’s disease.
The study revealed that midlife women who had greater estrogen exposure due to factors such as not reaching menopause, having more children and reproductive years, and using hormone therapy and hormone contraceptives, exhibited larger gray matter volumes. However, there was no direct association between reproductive history events and memory scores. Participants with higher memory scores tended to have more gray matter compared to those with lower scores.
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Learn more about the study below:
“The researchers looked at a total of 128 volunteers (99 women and 29 men), aged between 40 and 65 all with risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease, such as the APOE4 risk gene or a family history of the disease.
A range of reproductive history events were examined by questionnaires and interviews. These events included:
- Whether participants had experienced menopause or a hysterectomy
- The age they started periods
- Their age at menopause
- The length of time between the start of their periods and the start of menopause
- The number of children and pregnancies they may have had
- Whether they use menopausal hormone therapy (HT) and hormonal contraceptives (HC).
The researchers carried out brain scans to look specifically at areas called gray matter, including key regions that are damaged in Alzheimer’s disease. Lower volumes of gray matter have been linked to dementia risk and poorer brain health. All participants also had memory tests to assess their thinking and language skills.
Exposure to estrogen as a result of not having reached menopause, having more children and more reproductive years, and using HT and HC, was associated with larger gray matter volumes in midlife women.
Researchers found no association between reproductive history events and people’s memory scores, but people who scored better did have more gray matter compared to those that scored less.
Dr. Sara Imarisio, head of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: ‘Two thirds of people with dementia are women and while some of this difference is explained by women living longer, research has also implicated hormones like estrogen. The start of periods, having children, and menopause are significant events in many women’s lives and it’s important to understand how these biological changes might affect long-term brain health and dementia risk.'”
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