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Published on: March 17, 2012
by Cindi Pierce for eHow
When Alzheimer’s disease was first studied, it was initially believed that women were at greater risk of developing this condition because they lived longer than men; however, further research has shown that women are simply more likely to be affected by Alzheimer’s than men due to gender, not longevity.
According to Healthnytimes.com, the current school of thought is that women are at higher risk because of estrogen deficiency after menopause. Estrogen, which is the primary female hormone, protects against loss of mental function and memory loss.
Estrogen also blocks production of beta amyloid. Beta amyloid is a peptide of amino acids and it appears to be the main part of amyloid plaques that are found in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s. Abeta (as it is called) forms aggregates that coat cerebral blood vessels. These plaques are made up of tangled amyloid fibers. It is believed that this peptide is one of the causes of Alzheimer’s.
Other functions of estrogen include regulating blood sugar levels and acting as an anti-oxidant. When estrogen levels plummet, a woman no longer has this intrinsic protection; however, men covert testosterone into estrogen so they have continued protection even as they age.
Research Shows …
A study done at the University of Missouri uncovered important changes that occur in the brain’s vascular system when a woman stops producing estrogen. Prior to menopause, a woman’s vascular system relies on estrogen for maintenance.
What the Body Does
When estrogen production stops, the body can’t regulate its blood vessels at it did before. A period of deterioration will occur, according to the study, but the body will then learn to adapt to the estrogen loss and figures out a new way to maintain a woman’s system. How effectively the body manages may depend upon the individual.
According to Virginia Huxley, director of the National Center for Gender Physiology, professor of medical pharmacology and physiology at MU’s School of Medicine, and the co-senior author the study, blood vessels serve as highways that transport nutrients and oxygen through the body.
Post-menopause, a woman is likely to develop vascular problems in what Huxley refers to as “side streets,” which are tiny vessels. However, this study did not recommend the use of synthetic hormones as treatment because it is believed by the researchers that this might interfere with the body’s natural way of managing this situation.
Abnormal changes occur in the brain when a person develops Alzheimer’s, according to Namenda.com. Nerve cells that control our memory and ability to learn are damaged by the disease. These cells eventually die. The patient’s behavior and personality can completely change as a result. Normal body functions can be lost.
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