According to the Alzheimer’s Association, almost two-thirds of Americans with Alzheimer’s are women and women in their 60s are twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s than to develop breast cancer. That is a sobering fact and while we are searching for a cure, there may be an overlooked factor to prevent or slow the occurrence.
There are many new tools that can detect changes in brain function early. PET or positive emission tomography is a way to scan the brain. PET scans use a dye as a tracer and the tracer appears in areas where there is activity. The PET scan can measure blood flow, oxygen use, how your body uses sugar, and much more.
A recent study in the journal Neurology used 3 different kinds of scans.
- F-Fluorodeoxyglucose (18F-FDG) (PET) which is a well-established non-invasive imaging tool for monitoring changes in cerebral brain glucose metabolism.
- The brain uses glucose as a fuel, and this is a way to measure activity
- PET scan using a compound called Pittsburgh Compound-B (PiB) binds that binds amyloid β-protein protofibrils
- Patients with Alzheimer’s have more amyloid plaque.
- A structural MRI which shows the volume of white and gray matter in the brain.
- White matter contains nerve fibers and gray matter contain the actual brain cell bodies.
Using these tools, they found something fascinating. In this study of men and women age 40-65 it showed females were more likely to show early biomarkers of changes in brain function.
It showed women in the study group had less gray and white matter in the brain than men. Their brains shrink and become less active. Their glucose metabolism the sign of brain activity decreases. The Pittsburgh Compound marker that signifies amyloid plaque was more abundant in menopausal women.
The question was why? Why are women more susceptible?
Recent studies have identified more than 30 risk factors for Alzheimer’s that affect the sexes differently such as:
- Genetic – family history, APOE genotype
- Medical – depression, stroke, diabetes mellitus
- Hormonal -Menopause, thyroid disease
- Lifestyle – smoking, diet, exercise, intellectual activity
They stated that 1 in ever 3 cases may be preventable because many of these Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) risk factors are modifiable. The early changes prior to the development of the disease typically corresponds to midlife years.
During midlife the opportunity for disease modification is greatest.
They concluded that females are more severely affected. But why?
It wasn’t age, it was menopause! Menopausal women had lower glucose metabolism meaning less brain activity.
After adjusting for a multitude of risk factors, the authors concluded menopausal status was the predictor most consistently and strongly associated with the observed brain biomarker differences, followed by hormone therapy, hysterectomy status, and thyroid disease.
Could Hormone Replacement Therapy be a solution?
When they looked at women on Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) and compared them to those not on HRT, they found that:
- Women on HRT had 31% more brain activity measured by glucose metabolism.
- Women on HRT had greater white and gray matter volumes.
Menopause transition (MT) was the strongest predictor of the observed sex- related brain Alzheimer’s Disease abnormalities. Furthermore, a shorter reproductive lifespan and an earlier menopause onset have been associated with an increased AD risk in women. These results were replicated in other studies.
Data indicate that effectiveness of using HRT may depend on the timing of treatment initiation. The earlier the better.
This is another reason why you should consider Hormone Replacement Therapy. If you have risk factors, consult with a functional medicine physician who has experience in using hormone replacement therapy and who can help you address all risk factors. At Vibrance for Life® we do all of that. Learn how we can help you and apply for a free, no obligation clarity call to see if we are the right fit.