Perimenopause, Menopause & Alzheimer’s Disease

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Did you know that one in every 6 women past the age of 65 will develop Alzheimer’s Disease and only 1 in every 11 men will develop the disease?

It is curious why more women than men develop Alzheimer’s.

Women in their 60’s are twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s than breast cancer.

So you can imagine my excitement when I read that Dr. Roberta Brinton, a University of Arizona researcher (my alma mater), is going to study the connection between perimenopause, menopause & Alzheimer’s Disease. She is Neuroscientist and Director of the Center for Innovation in Brain Science.  She was awarded a $10.3 Million grant from the National Institute of Health.

According to the Daily Wilcat, the research will take place over a five year period.  Her grant will support a project titled “Perimenopause in Brain Aging and Alzheimer’s Disease.”

I never understood why Alzheimer’s disease causes memory loss.  I found this very interesting info:

Apparently, the brain depends on glucose for energy. Despite representing only two percent of body weight, the brain takes up 20 percent of the glucose in the body. When glucose levels in the brain run low, the body can transfer lipids from the liver to the brain. But when all supplies are exhausted, the brain begins to turn on itself, turning its own cells into food.

This is why Alzheimer’s disease manifests as memory loss—the consumption of brain cells destroys the connections the brain uses to transfer messages.

One theory for the cause of Alzheimer’s disease is the presence of the cholesterol-transferring gene apolipoprotein E4. Other kinds of APOE exist, including two and three. Neither of these genes carry a risk factor.

“People with two copies of APOE4 have a very high risk of developing Alzheimer’s,” Brinton said.

APOE4 is a poor cholesterol transporter, and a build up of cholesterol can lead to problems within the brain such as Alzheimer’s. But although APOE4 is a risk factor, a 2005 comparative study in the Annals of Neurology showed it is not a guarantee of the disease.

Puberty, pregnancy, and menopause are also all risk factors. While we all go through puberty, only women experience the latter two. Most people come out of puberty in good health, but 10 percent risk nervous system disorders such as schizophrenia, multiple sclerosis, and depression. Similarly, 10 percent of women who have given birth develop post-postpartum depression and multiple sclerosis.

“These transition states are states of vulnerability,” Brinton said.

Since women go through more of these transition states, it would stand to reason more women would suffer from Alzheimer’s.

Another factor is perimenopause, and this is the focus of the grant award. Perimenopause is a stage close to menopause wherein menstrual cycles happen unpredictably, leading to irregular estrogen production. The problem with this is, according to Brinton, is that “estrogen promotes glucose uptake into the brain, metabolism of glucose in the brain, and generation of energy in the brain.”

Because of this, a drop in estrogen inhibits glucose production for women’s brains more so than for men. Despite women producing more estrogen than men, on average men in their 70s have more estrogen than women at the same age. (This was news to me!)

The evidence for the connection between perimenopause and Alzheimer’s, as Brinton puts it, is that the disease spends “20 years in the making.” Alzheimer’s begins to take effect 20 years before diagnosis, which typically occurs around age 70.

For women, this would make the onset of the disease appear around age 50, and coincide with the average age of menopause. It is this suspicious correlation that Brinton will be using the research grant to study.

In order to further explore her theory on estrogen and glucose in women with Alzheimer’s, Brinton plans to genotype people with the APOE4 gene as well as mice with the same gene. Afterward, she will observe how well the mice brains use glucose. With this information, she hopes to uncover how to prevent the mice brains from eating themselves.

“We want to know what we can give these mice that are now going through this aging process that prevents them from using this white matter [and developing Alzheimer’s],” Brinton said.

I shall anxiously await the results of this study.  Information is power.

My Motto is:  Suffering in silence is OUT!  Reaching out is IN!

Download my free eBook, MENOPAUSE MONDAYS The Girlfriends Guide to Surviving and Thriving during Perimenopause and Menopause.

After struggling with her own severe menopause symptoms and doing years of research, Ellen resolved to share what she learned from experts and her own trial and error. Her goal was to replace the confusion, embarrassment, and symptoms millions of women go through–before, during, and after menopause–with the medically sound solutions she discovered. Her passion to become a “sister” and confidant to all women fueled Ellen’s first book, Shmirshky: the pursuit of hormone happiness. As a result of the overwhelming response from her burgeoning audiences and followers’ requests for empowering information they could trust, Ellen’s weekly blog, Menopause MondaysTM, was born.

  • Wow. I had no idea! Information is power, and keep us posted!

  • doreenmcgettigan

    I had NO idea either. I hope you keep us posted on this research!
    Every time I forget why I walked into a room I panic:(

    • I plan on it! We all forget why we walked into the room once in a while………….It happens when we take multi-tasking to a new level!

  • sue

    Thanks for the update Ellen. This disease is so debilitating and everyone suffers – the patient and their loved ones.

    • So true…………sometimes I think it maybe even harder on the loved ones…

  • I love seeing these posts–it’s the only way I know it’s Monday! You know, the research going on now is amazing. Just amazing.And great strides are being made in our own lifetime.

    • Thanks for your sweet words…………I am hopeful that this research will help us understand how this very horrible disease impacts women.

  • This is very interesting. Oh how science studies change, actually doing studies to relate to women not just adjusting studies done on men for women! Yeah female mice!

  • my dad passed away recently with dementia – his was alcohol and nicotine related, but it has made me super vigilant and any research like this is so helpful (I didn’t realize women were more at risk than men…)

    • I am so sorry to hear this Leanne. Sending you my sincere sympathies and a healing hug. I am going to stay on top of this research. So stay tuned…….

  • Lois Alter Mark

    It’s great that they’re researching this, and I hope they come up with a cure for Alzheimer’s while they’re at it. I look forward to reading more about this from you.

  • That’s such good information to know. I guess we all need to watch our cholesterol.

    • Often women find that during their menopausal journey their numbers begin to elevate. It is important to stay on top of this by getting a cholesterol panel done with your yearly physical.

  • Mary La Fornara

    I’m thankful studies are now being geared towards women and men separately. This is very good information.

    • Agree, Mary. This is so important! We need more studies on women!!!