Scientists have been aware for some time that giving estrogen hormone therapy to women over age 65 can increase the risk of cognitive disease and dementia, but little is known about giving such treatments to the newly postmenopausal.
A new study from the Mayo Clinic found that amyloid deposits—a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease—was lower in women who were experiencing menopause for less than three years, when an estrogen patch was used.
The association between menopause and dementia or Alzheimer’s is not new. The current thinking places the most critical period during the window when the body undergoes rapid estrogen depletion between five and 36 months after the onset of menopause. The Mayo Clinic study looked at 118 postmenopausal women between ages 52 and 65 who were within this window. Participants were given estrogen through a patch, a pill, or were given a placebo. Treatment continued for four years. After an additional three-year period, 68 of the women were given PET scans to measure the development of any amyloid deposits in the brain.
The oral estrogen treatment and the placebo were not associated with lower amyloid deposits. The estrogen patch, however, was. The patch actually showed the most significant effect among women who had the APOE e4 gene, which is associated with an increased risk of Alzheimer’s from menopause.
It is important to note that, while intriguing, the findings are still small and the researchers want to try repeating the study with a larger group in order to both verify the existence of a decrease in amyloid deposits and to get a better idea of the potential magnitude of the effects an estrogen patch may have on Alzheimer’s. Should the findings of this study be confirmed, it would offer new considerations for women, especially women with the APOE e4 gene, to think over when deciding on the use of hormone therapy after menopause.
“Estrogen Patch in Newly Postmenopausal Women May Reduce Alzheimer’s Risk” Mayo Clinic web site, July 12, 2016; http://newsnetwork.mayoclinic.org/discussion/estrogen-patch-in-newly-postmenopausal-women-may-reduce-alzheimers-risk/.