The Startling Link Between Early Menopause And Dementia Risk

Whether it's our bodies, our careers, or our relationships, life is all about change. For women, in particular, menopause is a major physical transition that marks the end of reproductive years. While menopause is a fact of life for all women, a new study that has come out is making a connection between early menopause and dementia.

When a woman enters her mid-40s and 50s, her reproductive hormones start to change, and she begins to enter menopause. According to Healthline, menopause has officially occurred when a woman does not get her period for 12 consecutive months.

Menopause is caused by naturally declining levels of several hormones, including estrogen, testosterone, and progesterone (via Healthline). In addition to menstruation cycles changing and eventually ceasing, menopausal women may also experience symptoms of hot flashes, mood swings, headaches, and weight gain.

While menopause typically begins between ages 45-55, some women will begin menopause before then. According to the Cleveland Clinic, premature menopause develops before age 40 and affects approximately 1% of women.

The connection between menopause and dementia

While only a small percentage of women experience premature menopause, a new study has found that those who do have a 35% higher chance of developing dementia down the road versus those who entered menopause after age 50 (via U.S News & World Report).

According to the Alzheimer's Association, dementia is an umbrella term referring to several conditions affecting one's memory and overall cognitive functioning. There are many types of dementia, including Alzheimer's Disease, which accounts for up to 80% of cases (via Alzheimer's Association). Alzheimer's is marked by a buildup of amyloid plaque in the brain, which causes a block in the communication between cells in the hippocampus — the part of your brain that is responsible for memory (via Healthline).

Because menopause is marked by a decrease in estrogen, researchers theorize that this may allow an increase of amyloid plaque to build up in the brain, leading to a greater risk of dementia. "Estrogen can activate cellular antioxidants such as glutathione, reduce ApoE4, the most common genetic risk factor in the pathogenesis of dementia, and reduce amyloid plaque deposition in the brain," study author Dr. Wenting Hao explained to U.S News & World Report.

If you do experience early menopause, know that there are plenty of things you can do to lower your risk of developing dementia. The Alzheimer's Association recommends eating a healthy diet, refraining from smoking, and engaging in regular exercise.