Hormone replacement therapy may lower chance of developing Alzheimer’s in women with high-risk gene
- Menopause drug aids better memory, cognitive function and brain volumes
- People with two copies of APOE4 are up to 15% more likely to get Alzheimer’s
- Those with gene may start having symptoms ten years earlier than average
Hormone replacement therapy may prevent Alzheimer’s in high-risk women, a study suggests.
Taking the menopause drug was linked with better memory, cognitive function and larger brain volumes in later life in women carrying a gene called APOE4.
People with two copies of the gene are up to 15 per cent more likely to get Alzheimer’s and may start having symptoms ten years earlier than average.
This makes APOE4 the strongest risk factor gene for Alzheimer’s but does not 100 per cent mean the disease will develop.
Taking HRT was linked with better memory, cognitive function and larger brain volumes in later life in women carrying a gene called APOE4
Experts looked at the results of cognitive tests of 1,178 women across ten European countries.
The study was published in the journal Alzheimer’s Research & Therapy.
For the latest research, experts looked at the results of cognitive tests and brain volumes as recorded by MRI scans.
The results showed that APOE4 carriers who also used HRT had better cognition and higher brain volumes than people not on HRT and non-APOE4 carriers.
Dr Rasha Saleh, from UEA’s Norwich Medical School, said: ‘We found that HRT use is associated with better memory and larger brain volumes among at-risk APOE4 gene carriers.
‘The associations were particularly evident when HRT was introduced early – during the transition to menopause, known as perimenopause.
‘This is really important because there have been very limited drug options for Alzheimer’s disease for 20 years and there is an urgent need for new treatments.
‘The effects of HRT in this observation study, if confirmed in an intervention trial, would equate to a brain age that is several years younger.’ Prof Minihane said the team did not look at dementia cases, but that cognitive performance and lower brain volumes are predictive of future dementia risk.
Professor Michael Hornberger, from UEA’s Norwich Medical School, said: ‘It’s too early to say for sure that HRT reduces dementia risk in women, but our results highlight the potential importance of HRT and personalised medicine in reducing Alzheimer’s risk.
‘The next stage of this research will be to carry out an intervention trial to confirm the impact of starting HRT early on cognition and brain health. It will also be important to analyse which types of HRT are most beneficial.’ Professor Craig Ritchie, from the University of Edinburgh, said the study ‘highlights the need to challenge many assumptions about early Alzheimer’s disease and its treatment, especially when considering women’s brain health’.
He added: ‘An effect on both cognition and brain changes on MRI supports the notion that HRT has tangible benefit. These initial findings need replication, however, in other populations.’ Alzheimer’s disease is most common in people over the age of 65.
The risk of Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia increases with age, affecting an estimated one in 14 people over the age of 65 and one in every six over the age of 80.