Women who are approaching menopause should consider incorporating more antioxidants into their diets, to help combat their increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. A recent study from Cornell University said menopausal women develop brain conditions that can be susceptible to Alzheimer’s.
Since the factors that cause women to be at a higher risk for AD are unknown, the study set out to understand why women have an increased chance of developing the condition versus men. Lead study author Lisa Mosconi, an associate professor of neuroscience in neurology, said women are at a higher risk for AD after a certain age.
“This study suggests there may be a critical window of opportunity, when women in their 40s and 50s, to detect metabolic signs of higher Alzheimer’s risk and apply strategies to reduce that risk,” she said in a press release.
The study observed brains of 43 women who were considered healthy, from the age of 40 to 60 years old — 15 were pre-menopausal, 14 were transitioning into menopause and 14 were menopausal. Researchers conducted positron emission tomography (PET) scans, scans that use dye and tracers to indicate disease within the brain, to determine the amount of glucose within the brains.
The glucose metabolism was found to be lower in women who were transitioning into menopause and who were already menopausal. Since glucose serves as a major fuel source for the body’s cellular functions, the levels are cause for concern.
The lack of glucose was an indication of a higher risk for developing Alzheimer’s, as the glucose levels in previous studies was a factor the condition’s development. As estrogen levels decrease throughout menopause, a woman’s defenses that protect her brain are at risk, Mosconi said.
“Our findings show that the loss of estrogen in menopause doesn’t just diminish fertility,” she said. “It also means the loss of a key neuroprotective element in the female brain and a higher vulnerability to brain aging and Alzheimer’s disease. We urgently need to address these problems because, currently, 850 million women worldwide are entering or have entered menopause. Our studies demonstrate that women need medical attention in their 40s, well in advance of any endocrine or neurological symptoms.”
Mosconi recommended that women become proactive themselves in the fight against developing the disease by focusing on adding foods high in antioxidants to their diets. She said as far as hormone replacement therapies go, there is more research that is required before it is fully understood how the therapies affect women in the beginning stages of menopause.
“Our work indicates that women may need antioxidants to protect their brain activity and mitochondria in combination with strategies to maintain estrogen levels,” she said. “We believe that more research is needed to test efficacy and safety of hormonal-replacement therapies at the very early stages of menopause, and to correlate hormonal changes with the risk of Alzheimer’s. This is a major at our Alzheimer’s Prevention Clinic.”
The study recommended more research over extended periods of time to fully understand how menopause is associated with the higher risk for AD. Mosconi said the team is planning to expand on the study.
“We really need to follow larger groups of women over longer periods to see how this menopausal change in metabolism relates to Alzheimer’s,” she said.