Dementia linked to premature menopause in women, study finds

Entering menopause before age 40 is associated with a 35% higher risk of developing dementia later in life, according to a preliminary study.

Premature menopause, as it is called, occurs when a woman’s ovaries stop producing hormones and the menstrual cycle ends at age 40. That’s about 12 years before the typical onset of menopause, which is 52 in the United States, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services for Women’s Health.

“What we see in this study is a modest association between premature menopause and later risk of dementia,” said Dr. Donald Lloyd-Jones, president of the American Heart Association. He did not participate in the study.

Why do women experience premature menopause? Unless the woman has undergone surgery to remove her ovaries and uterus, “this is linked to the more rapid biological aging of all tissues in the body, including the premature aging of our organs and their functions”, said Lloyd. -Jones, who is a teacher. in preventive medicine and pediatrics at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago.

“It’s a multi-level red flag when a woman is going through premature menopause, as it indicates that there may be underlying genetic, environmental or behavioral health issues that we really need to focus on” , he added.

Menopause before age 45

The research, which has not been published but will be presented this week at the American Heart Association’s 2022 conference, looked at data from more than 153,000 women who took part in the UK Biobank, an ongoing study that examines the genetic and health information of half a million. of people living in the UK.

“The scope and breadth of the data is large and impressive, but it doesn’t give us the detail we need to understand the full implications of the study,” Lloyd-Jones said.

The study was adjusted for age, race, weight, education and income, smoking and alcohol consumption, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and physical activity . It found that women who entered menopause before age 45 were 1.3 times more likely to be diagnosed with dementia praecox at age 65.

Premature menopause, which occurs between the ages of 40 and 45, is classified separately from premature menopause before age 40, but both can be caused by many of the same factors: family history; autoimmune disorders, including chronic fatigue syndrome; HIV and AIDS; pelvic chemotherapy or radiation therapy for the treatment of cancer; surgery to remove the ovaries and uterus; and smoke.

“Functional menopause due to surgery is less risky than biological menopause which occurs early because again this can be a red flag that other tissues are aging faster so a woman really needs to see her doctor and having a plan to optimize all of your health factors,” Lloyd-Jones said.

role of estrogen
When women enter menopause, estrogen levels drop, which may be one reason for the study results, said lead author Wenting Hao, a doctoral student at Shandong University in Jinan, China. China.

“We know that long-term lack of estrogen increases oxidative stress, which can increase brain aging and lead to cognitive impairment,” Hao said in a note.

Oxidative stress occurs when the body’s antioxidant defenses cannot cope with an overabundance of radicals or unstable atoms that can damage cells. Free radicals occur naturally in the body as a byproduct of cellular metabolism, but levels can be increased by exposure to smoke, environmental toxins, pesticides, dyes, and air pollution .

“However, I think premature menopause is a bigger sign than just estrogen,” Lloyd-Jones said. “Just as gestational diabetes or preeclampsia should be a sign, premature menopause signals a woman who is on the fast track to having a heart or brain problem.”

“We will control everything we can control about diet, physical activity, weight and smoking with lifestyle changes and, if necessary, medication,” Lloyd-Jones added.

There are several ways for women going through early menopause to reduce their risk of cognitive decline, Hao said.

“This includes routine exercise, participation in recreational and educational activities, not smoking and not drinking alcohol (and) maintaining a healthy weight,” Hao said. “Being aware of this increased risk can help women practice dementia prevention strategies and work with their doctors to closely monitor their cognitive status as they age.”

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