4 Risk factors for hormonal dementia that directly affect women
As neuroscientist, nutritionist, and associate director of the Alzheimer’s Prevention Clinic at Weill Cornell Medical College Lisa Mosconi, Ph.D., explained in an episode of the mindbodygreen podcast, reproductive hormones play an important role in protecting our brains from damage (such as the amyloid plaques associated with the disease Alzheimer’s).
“The interaction between the brain and the reproductive organs is really critical to brain health and aging, especially in women,” she says. “We tend to think about testosterone [and] estrogens involved in reproduction, childbirth. But in fact, these hormones have a great effect on our brain.”
“In particular, they literally push our neurons to transmit glucose to produce energy. So if your hormones are high, your brain energy is high. But then what happens with testosterone is that it doesn’t exactly decrease over time, whereas for women, estrogen drops significantly when women go through menopause,” shares Mosconi.
It is the sharp drop in estrogen that makes women’s brains particularly vulnerable when they hit menopause in their 40s and 50s. “If you think these hormones have some kind of superpower for the brain, women lose that superpower around menopause, right? And the brain remains a little more vulnerable,” says Mosconi.
Similar to menopause, removal of the uterus or ovaries (such as a hysterectomy or oophorectomy) also causes a dramatic drop in estrogen levels. Other periods of hormonal fluctuations, such as puberty and pregnancy, also affect estrogen levels, which explains why some hormonal factors put women at increased risk while others help protect their brains.