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Hormones May Not Raise Alzheimer’s Risks

HRT and the Timing Hypothesis continued...

Women who started taking a combination of estrogen and progesterone after age 65 tended to be at increased risk of Alzheimer’s, though the result wasn’t statistically reliable.

The study can’t prove that earlier use of hormones alone cut the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Women who elected to take hormones may simply have been more health conscious than women who didn’t. They may have adopted overall healthier lifestyles that lowered their risk.

Study researchers acknowledge that such factors could be playing a role in the results, though they tried to take into account differences between women who did and did not take hormones.

“I do think this is important to stress that this is just one piece of evidence in the debate,” says researcher Peter P. Zandi, PhD, associate professor of mental health and epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, Md. “I don’t think that based on the findings of this one study women should change their behavior just yet,” Zandi says.

Experts think hormones should only be used to treat menopausal symptoms like hot flashes, and vaginal dryness that are severe enough to disrupt daily functioning. The FDA advises women who need hormones to treat menopausal symptoms to use them at the lowest dose for the shortest amount of time.

Still, many women shy away from hormones for fear that using hormones during menopause may raise their risks for problems like dementia later in life.

“For the woman who’s thinking, ‘Should I go on hormone therapy? I don’t want to get Alzheimer’s disease.’ We now have, I think, a convincing body of evidence that suggests that it’s really important to distinguish between studies that are able to look at early use of hormone therapy versus later use,” says Pauline M. Maki, PhD, professor of psychiatry and psychology at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Maki studies the effects of hormones on memory and thinking, but she was not involved in the research.


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