Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) may help prevent Alzheimer’s disease, new research suggested.
Researchers from the University of East Anglia found that 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 found APOE4 to be a significant risk factor gene for Alzheimer’s disease, although inheriting the gene does not mean that someone will definitely develop the condition.
In this latest study, published in the journal Alzheimer’s Research & Therapy, the team found that 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.
Hope amid HRT supply issues
Access to HRT has become more prominent over the past year following issues with supply.
The Government appointed a tsar to tackle the shortages after thousands of women struggled to access the key medication.
NHS figures released last year show that the number of prescriptions for HRT in England had doubled in the past five years, to more than 500,000 a month.
In this latest research, 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 the UEA’s Norwich Medical School, led the study with Prof Craig Ritchie from the University of Edinburgh. They 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.