WOMEN who don’t take treatment for the menopause may be risking the development of Alzheimer’s, research suggests.

From an average age of 45-55, levels of the hormone oestrogen start to decline, causing dozens of symptoms in women and eventually stopping periods.

This drop in oestrogen can cause shrinking of “gray matter” in key brain regions vulnerable to Alzheimer’s disease, it’s already known.

Now, a new study involving 99 women suggests this could be counter-affected by keeping oestrogen levels up.

MRI scans and cognitive tests of the women in their late 40s to late 50s showed that women who had more cumulative "exposure" to oestrogen in their life had more brain volume in areas of the brain important to memory.

Women typically had high estrogen exposure if they started menopause later, started their periods early, or had more children, researchers led by Weill Cornell Medicine, New York, said.

But having used hormone replacement therapy (HRT) – a treatment for menopausal symptoms – was also shown as beneficial.

HRT replaces hormones that plummet during the menopause and is given to those who need it to prevent debilitating menopausal side effects, such as hot flushes. 

Most women can take it, but doctors and patient decide based on the woman's medical history and symptoms.

Its reputation has been tarnished over the past 20 decades due to flawed research that largely put women off taking it.

Studies show that only around one in ten menopausal women who would benefit from HRT actually take it.

Research has been split on whether HRT raises, or reduces, the risk of dementia in women who take it.

A recent study, published in September, found some women were found to have a “slightly” increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s – but only if they had been using HRT for a long time.

But women who took oestrogen only HRT appeared to dodge diagnoses.

The new findings, published in the journal Neurology, support the idea that oestrogen can be protective, the researchers say,

Senior study author Dr Lisa Mosconi, an associate professor of neuroscience, said: “Our findings suggest that while the menopause transition may bring vulnerability for the female brain, other reproductive history events indicating greater oestrogen exposure bring resilience instead.”

Alzhiemer’s is the most common form of dementia – an umbrella condition that 850,000 people in the UK are living with.

More women are affected by dementia than men, outnumbering men 2 to 1. 

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