How does HRT affect dementia risk?
Hormone replacement therapy (or HRT) has long been the subject of controversy. First made available in the 1940s, it was created as a means of tackling the unpleasant – and for some women, debilitating – symptoms caused by the menopause.
In the 1990s and 2000s, studies were undertaken to study HRT’s long-term effects. When they found evidence that it could increase a woman’s risk of cancer and heart disease, the reaction was swift. Medical bodies began urging doctors to prescribe it only in its lowest effective doses, and many women stopped taking it altogether.
Today, those three letters still evoke a lot of uncertainty in patients and doctors. Many doctors feel uncomfortable prescribing it; many more menopausal women automatically rule it out as a potential treatment because of the risks it may carry.
In an interesting turn of events though, the studies that caused the initial panic have recently been challenged. According to new research, it now looks like HRT is perfectly safe for menopausal women to use. In fact, the latest studies seem to suggest that hormone replacement therapy could be seriously beneficial to post-menopausal women when it comes to staving off dementia.
The Menopause and Dementia
Earlier this year, it was reported that early menopause as caused by surgical removal of the ovaries is linked to a reduction in memory and thinking skills. The fear is that this could in turn lead to early-onset dementia and Alzheimer’s.
It isn’t understood precisely why the removal of the ovaries might have these worrying effects, but the doctor running the study, Gillian Einstein, believes that this indicates the importance of oestrogen in healthy brain function for women.
One fascinating offshoot of this study is that hormone replacement therapy (which artificially boosts oestrogen levels) could now play a seriously important role in maintaining brain health for post-menopausal women. In fact, this isn’t just speculation – in 2014, researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine found that, when given to post-menopausal women who were at risk of dementia, HRT actively prevented brain degeneration.
While the sample size used in this study was too small to draw any definitive results, it is interesting to consider this research in conjunction with Dr Einstein’s more recent study. If oestrogen is the key to maintaining a healthy brain after the menopause, then it seems only logical that HRT would be the way forward.
All dementia-fighting powers aside, there are plenty of reasons why HRT would appeal to a menopausal woman living with unpleasant symptoms.
The Benefits of Hormone Replacement Therapy
The menopause is a natural part of ageing, which occurs when a woman’s oestrogen levels begin to decline. This predominantly causes period cessation, but other symptoms include:
- Hot flushes, which can incorporate heart palpitations, sweating, and skin reddening
- Night sweats and problems sleeping
- Vaginal dryness, which can cause pain and discomfort during sex
Hormone replacement therapy works by boosting oestrogen levels artificially. In turn it helps to tackle all of the symptoms listed above, as well as osteoporosis (the weakening of the bones), which is more common in post-menopausal women. HRT is usually taken for a few years, after which the doses are gradually reduced and treatment eventually ceased.
Types of HRT
There are many different types of HRT available, and the exact kind you are prescribed will depend upon your medical history, symptoms, and how advanced your menopause is.
Women who have had a hysterectomy (i.e. their womb has been removed) can safely take oestrogen on its own; women who still have their womb will have to take a combination of progesterone and oestrogen.
Cyclical HRT is recommended for women experiencing HRT but still having periods, while continuous combined HRT is recommended for post-menopausal women who are no longer having periods.
HRT treatments also come in a variety of preparations. You can take tablets, use patches that stick onto your skin, apply an oestrogen gel directly to your skin or vagina, or even have an implant fitted that gradually releases hormones into your bloodstream.
To find out more about HRT, or to obtain a safe prescription through The Online Clinic, click here.