A link between menopause and Alzheimer's?

Alzheimer's Disease and dementia are now the leading cause of death for women in England and Wales, and a leading cause of death and disability worldwide. Women have a significantly higher risk of developing dementia than men, even when taking in to account that women tend to live longer. So what's putting women at greater risk?

A new paper strengthens the evidence that oestrogen levels might be a key factor in Alzheimer's progression. Oestrogen both protects brain cells and regulates the uptake of glucose [the brain's essential fuel source] in the brain. Levels of the hormone drop substantially during the menopause, meaning that women lose these protective effects. Scanning the brains of pre-, peri- and post-menopausal women, researchers observed the the brains of women after the menopause showed lower activity [in the picture brighter and warmer colours mean increased activity], indicating that less glucose is being taken up and, potentially, that the brain cells are unable to function as well or defend against damage.

This research may help to explain why lifting weights has been shown to be particularly good for protecting brain health in older women. Resistance exercise boosts the function of the power houses within cells, helping them to create more energy. It can also increase the levels of BDNF, a compound that promotes the growth of new brain cell connections.

The evidence here will help to inform future medical treatments, but in the meantime, it might be a good idea to encourage your granny to pump some iron!

Mosconi L, Berti V, Guyara-Quinn C, McHugh P, Petrongolo G, Osorio RS, et al. (2017) Perimenopause and emergence of an Alzheimer’s bioenergetic phenotype in brain and periphery. PLoS ONE12(10): e0185926. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0185926