Dementia linked to premature menopause in women, study finds

Entering menopause before the age of 40 is linked to 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 around age 40. That’s about a dozen years before the typical onset of menopause, which is at age 52, in the United States, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Women’s Health.

“What we see in this study is a modest association between premature menopause and later risk of dementia,” said 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 had surgery to remove the ovaries and uterus, “it has more to do with the more rapid biological aging of body tissues, including the premature aging of our organs and their functions” , said Lloyd-Jones, professor of preventive medicine, medicine. , and pediatrics at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago.

“It’s a multilevel warning sign when a woman is going through premature menopause, as it indicates that there may be underlying health or environmental behaviors that we need to focus on.”he added.

Menopause before age 45

The study, which is unpublished but is being presented at the American Heart Association’s 2022 conference, looked at data from more than 153,000 women who took part in the UK Biobank, an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 information genetics and health of half a million people living in the UK. UK.

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

The study was adjusted for age, race, weight, education level and income, cigarette and alcohol consumption, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and activity physical. 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 diseases, including chronic fatigue syndrome; HIV and AIDS, pelvic chemotherapy or radiotherapy for 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 it can be a warning sign that other tissues are aging more rapidly, in which case a woman should consult her doctor to develop a plan that optimizes all health factors,” Lloyd-Jones said.

The role of estrogen?

When women enter menopause, estrogen levels drop, which may explain the study results, said study author Wenting Hao, a doctoral student at Shandong University in Jinan, 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 statement.

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,” said Lloyd-Jones. “Just as gestational diabetes or preeclampsia should be a sign, premature menopause means a woman is approaching a heart or brain problem more quickly.”

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

There are several methods for women in early menopause to reduce their risk of cognitive decline, according to Hao.

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

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