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Long-Term Use Of Oral Hormone Therapy Tied To Increased Alzheimer’s Risk

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Women who take long-term oral hormonal therapy as a treatment for postmenopausal symptoms have increased chances of developing Alzheimer's later in life.

A large Finnish study published in the British Medical Journal found that women who took hormonal pills before age 60 for 10 or more years have 9 to 17 percent risk for Alzheimer's.

Some experts said that the slight increase should not be a cause for alarm especially among women who take it for short-term management of their symptoms.

"In this case, some women on hormone therapy had a slight increased risk of Alzheimer's, but this increase was so small it shouldn't cause alarm or deter women from the their prescribed treatment-particularly those taking it over a short period of time," said Dr James Pickett, research head at the Alzheimer's Society.

Role Of Hormone Therapy

Hormone therapy is the first-line treatment for managing postmenopausal symptoms like hot flashes, vaginal dryness, and night sweats.

Prior research showed that hormone therapy decreases the risk of vascular dementia. Dr. Tomi Mikkola, supervisor of the OB-GYN doctoral research clinic at the University of Helsinki, said the mechanisms of vascular dementia and Alzheimer's are different.

"Women should not use hormone therapy for the expressed purpose of trying to improve memory or reduce cognitive decline, but when used for early menopause the benefits are sure to outweigh the risk for short term treatment," said co-author Dr JoAnn Manson, chief of the Division of Preventive Medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts.

Results of the BMJ study supported the 2003 JAMA research where authors found that estrogen pills spiked dementia risk with no added benefit to cognitive function.

Alzheimer's Prevalence

At least one person develops Alzheimer's every 65 seconds in the United States. It is the sixth leading cause of death with approximately 5.8 million Americans affected by the disease in 2019, according to Alzheimer's Association.

About two-thirds of the Alzheimer's population are women. Previous research showed that the drop in estrogen levels as women reach their menopausal stage is critical for developing Alzheimer's.

Estrogen serves as a protective layer of the brain that regulates cognition and memory. This is why post-menopausal women have higher dementia risk due to a decline in estrogen levels.

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