If You Have More of This in Your Blood, Your Dementia Risk Is High, Study Says
More of this hormone could spell trouble for your brain health, researchers say.
Across the U.S., 6.2 million people are estimated to have Alzheimer's Disease (AD), a number that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) expects to double by the year 2060. The fifth leading cause of death in the nation, an Alzheimer's diagnosis is sadly considered both irreversible and terminal.
To make matters worse, there's no single test to determine whether you have Alzheimer's Disease, and the condition can only be confirmed after death. Before then, doctors rely on a series of possible biomarkers and a person's medical history to reach a probable diagnosis. From there, they may be able to plan a course of treatment to help patients manage and cope with their AD symptoms.
While these biomarkers haven't yet been proven, the Alzheimer's Association says that "researchers are investigating several promising candidates, including brain imaging, proteins in CSF, blood and urine tests, and genetic risk profiling." One recent study in particular has found that your blood may, in fact, reveal one particular factor that could put you at higher risk for Alzheimer's. Read on to find out whether you may be at increased risk, and what to do if you suspect a problem.
The study, which was published in Menopause, the journal of the North American Menopause Society, found that there may be an association between high levels of estrogen and biomarkers for Alzheimer's.
The team tracked a small sampling of women who did not have dementia at the start of the study, and who underwent natural menopause, for 25 years. Based on cerebrospinal fluid samples taken from the women, researchers determined that delayed menopause resulting in a longer reproductive life was associated with higher incidence of AD biomarkers in the preclinical stage of the disease.
As researchers continue to reveal the possible role of estrogen in dementia and Alzheimer's cases, it may help explain why approximately two-thirds of Alzheimer's patients are women.
"This [fact] is not surprising, because age is the greatest known risk factor for AD, and women tend to live longer than men," the researchers behind the study note. However, age may account for only some of the difference, and the particulars of women's hormonal biology may also increase their likelihood of suffering from Alzheimer's at a disproportionate rate.
While the study used subjects' reproductive lifespan as "a surrogate marker for exposure to endogenous estrogen," there's another way to gain insight into your estrogen levels: your doctor can run a blood test.
Running a comprehensive hormone panel can also help your medical practitioner identify your risk levels for a wider range of potential health problems, including breast, ovarian, or endometrial cancer, as well as thyroid disease, diabetes, and more.
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While the study found that high estrogen is linked with increased AD biomarkers, more research is needed to determine the exact role of estrogen in Alzheimer's Disease. "Some studies have shown that hormone therapy after menopause can increase the risk of dementia, but others have documented a decreased risk. Similarly, cognitive decline has been linked with both longer and shorter reproductive periods," the Menopause study acknowledges.
Contrary to this particular study's findings, some other studies have suggested that a menopausal loss of estrogen may increase the incidence of AD, and estrogen replacement therapy may be beneficial in combating dementia. According to a separate study published in the journal Drugs and Aging, "increased cerebral blood flow, mediation of important neurotransmitters and hormones, protection against apoptosis, anti-inflammatory actions, and antioxidant properties… support estrogen as a potential treatment for the cognitive decline associated with Alzheimer's disease (AD), the most common form of dementia."
If there's any doubt about your cognitive health or that of a loved one, the best course of action is to speak with your doctor; the sooner a dementia diagnosis is established, the sooner everyone can get the support they need.