Women and Alzheimer’s

According to recent statistics, 3.2 million of the 5 million Americans presently living with Alzheimer’s disease are women. While men have a 1 in 11 chance of developing Alzheimer’s over the course of their lifetimes, women’s chances are 1 in 6.

Why Are Women More Likely to Suffer from Alzheimer’s?

For quite some time, researchers have attributed the increased rate of Alzheimer’s among women to the simple fact that women live approximately four to five years longer than men. The logic is simple. Alzheimer’s is an age-related condition, and so individuals who live longer, whether male or female, will necessarily face higher risks.

However, new scientific information is showing that longevity may not be the only reason for Alzheimer’s apparent gender bias. Recent studies point to distinct biological and genetic factors that shape how Alzheimer’s takes root and progresses in the female body. By examining these factors, researchers are currently developing new methods of preventing diagnosing, and treating the disease.

The Alzheimer’s Gene

One of the top suspects in the investigation of women’s increased Alzheimer’s risk is a particular variant of the gene ApoE-4. This gene has been tied to higher instances of Alzheimer’s development by numerous respected scientists.

Stanford University researchers recently studied more than 8,000 people, looking closely at the ApoE-4 gene and its potential medical effects. They found that women who carry the specific form of ApoE-4 that is associated with Alzheimer’s were twice as likely to develop the disease over the course of their lifetimes. By contrast, men who had this form of the gene faced only a very slight risk increase when compared with men who did not have this form of the gene.

It is uncertain exactly why the gene causes an increase in Alzheimer’s risk, but the fact that it affects women so disproportionately has provided a significant clue. Following this lead, University of Southern California professor Roberta Diaz Brinton and other leading scientists are closely studying how the gene interacts with estrogen.

The Importance of Hormones

Estrogen, testosterone, and other hormones have a significant impact on the human brain. Alzheimer’s researchers have tested forms of these hormones for years, measuring their effects on both healthy adults and Alzheimer’s patients. Although studies into hormonal treatments for and hormonal prophylactic measures against Alzheimer’s disease have achieved mixed results, many researchers remain confident in the power of hormones to prevent, delay, or even reverse the progression of Alzheimer’s disease in women.

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