Hormone replacement therapy linked to potential reduction in risk of developing dementia

Published 12 March 2014

Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) given soon after menopause could help reduce the risk of developing dementia or mild cognitive impairment.

This is according to a study published in the journal Plos One today (Wednesday 12 March). The study, led by Standford University School of Medicine, found that hormone therapy, initiated soon after menopause, prevented degeneration in key brain regions of women who were at heightened dementia risk.

This heightened risk of developing dementia was defined by having a history of major depression, having a first-degree relative with the condition or having the Apo4 allele gene – a gene variant known to greatly increase someone's risk of developing Alzheimer's disease.

Of the 45 post-menopausal women who remained in the study, 28 remained on HRT and 17 stopped using it. Brain images taken at the outset and compared to two years later indicated that metabolic activity in the medial prefrontal cortex – essential to decision making – was better preserved among participants who remained on hormone therapy.

Of the two HRT drugs taken by those in the study, estradiol in pure form and Premarin (a brand name part made up of estradiol), pure estradiol saw the largest effect in preserving metabolic activity.

Dr Doug Brown, Director of Research & Development at Alzheimer's Society said of the findings:

'A number of studies have investigated the use of HRT to reduce the risk of developing dementia, and previous conclusions have been mixed. This particular study indicates that the use of HRT, especially estradiol, may protect areas of the brain associated with dementia in women.

'It is important to note however, that the study size was very small and no-one in the study experienced cognitive decline despite being at risk, making it hard to draw any solid conclusions about how it would affect their risk of developing dementia. On the basis of this research we wouldn't recommend women taking HRT with the aim of reducing their risk of developing dementia, but it would be interesting to see more research in this area.'

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