The Daily Telegraph

HRT may help menopausal women ward off Alzheimer’s

The treatment improves memory, brain function and grey matter in those carrying a particular gene

- By Lizzie Roberts

HORMONE replacemen­t therapy may help prevent Alzheimer’s disease, new research suggests.

Researcher­s from University of East Anglia (UAE) found HRT, which helps control symptoms of the menopause, is associated with better memory, cognitive function and larger brain volumes in later life in women carrying a gene called APOE4.

About a quarter of women in the UK are thought to carry the APOE4 gene and Alzheimer’s is more common in women than men.

Previous research has found APOE4 is a significan­t risk factor gene for Alzheimer’s, although inheriting the gene does not mean someone will definitely develop the condition.

In the study, published in the journal Alzheimer’s Research & Therapy, the team found HRT was most effective when given during perimenopa­use – where symptoms build up months or years before periods actually stop.

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.

Access to HRT has become more prominent over the last year following issues with supply. The Government appointed a specialist to tackle the shortages, after thousands of women struggled to access medication.

NHS figures released last year showed that the number of prescripti­ons for HRT in England had doubled in the past five years to more than 500,000 a month.

Experts studied data from 1,178 women taking part in the European Prevention of Alzheimer’s Dementia initiative, which was set up to study participan­ts’ brain health over time.

The project, which involved 10 countries, tracked the brains of 1,906 people over 50, who did not have dementia at the start of the study.

Prof Anne-marie Minihane, from UEA’S Norwich Medical School, who led the study with Prof Craig Ritchie, 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 NONAPOE4 carriers.

Scientists at the Mayo Clinic in the US have previously found oestrogen – one of the two main hormones in HRT – may have a protective effect on the brain against diseases such as Parkinson’s and dementia.

Dr Rasha Saleh, from 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. This is really important because there is an urgent need for new treatments.”

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