Linking Estrogen, Diabetes and Dementia

Dementia risks rose among older women with higher estrogen and diabetes

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) How well the brain functions often depends on the body's overall health. For older women with changed hormonal levels and diabetes, brain health may be a particular concern.

According to a new study, the risks for dementia may increase significantly in older women with diabetes and high amounts of a certain kind of estrogen hormone.

"Ask your doctor about maintaining brain health after menopause."

Pierre-Yves Scarabin, MD, of the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research in Villejuif, France, was lead author of this new study.

The study enrolled French women aged 65 and older who lived in one of three French cities and who were enrolled in a nationwide study, which began in 1999, of the overall health of French men and women.

At the start of the study, 543 of a total of 675 female participants did not have dementia, and 132 did have dementia. For four years, these researchers monitored the women's health, including the condition of their hearts, rates of high blood pressure, abnormal blood clotting, diabetes and other factors that raise a person's chances of developing dementia.

Based on that investigation's comparison of women with dementia and women without dementia, the researchers concluded that the risks for developing dementia more than doubled for those with elevated levels of estrogen without diabetes. For older women with high estrogen levels and diabetes, the risks for developing dementia increased 14 times.

Compared to women without dementia, women with dementia and diabetes had estradiol levels that were about 70 percent higher.

“These results are surprising, given the expected brain protective effects of estrogen-based therapy,” said Dr. Scarabin.

Dementia is marked by loss of memory, changes in personality, decreased ability to process thoughts and ideas and other brain dysfunctions. Dementia can be triggered by brain disease or brain injury. Dementia occurs more often among aging people than among young people.

The researchers noted that the number of elderly people with diabetes and dementia is expected to continue increasing. They concluded that there is a need for more research on what that means for women who have finished menopause and may be at risk for dementia.

Past studies have tied estrogen levels to better brain function in women who have completed menopause. Those studies include a 2001 analysis, published in the Journal of the American Pharmacists Association, of several earlier clinical trials and investigations. Those 2001 researchers concluded that taking prescribed replacement hormones helped post-menopausal women retain better memory and other brain functions. Janet E. Shepherd, MD, of Florida State University was that study's main author.

More recently, a June 2013 study published by the Endocrine Society concluded that post-menopausal women with memory loss because of their declining estrogen improved their memory by taking testosterone. Susan Davis, MBBS, PhD, of Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, was that study's lead author. Though mainly a male hormone, the female ovaries also produce testosterone.

This new study of the effect of diabetes and estrogen overload on dementia was published online January 29 in Neurology.

Funding for the study came from the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research Institute, Victor Segalen-Bordeaux II University, Sanofi-Aventis, Foundation for Medical Research, National Health Fund for Employees, Directorate General of Health, MGEN, Institute of Longevity, Regional Councils of Aquitaine and Bourgogne, Foundation of France and the National Agency of Research in France. Also, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute in Bethesda, MD helped fund the study.

Two of the study's seven researchers reported that they had received fees and research grants from pharmaceutical companies.

Review Date: 
January 28, 2014
Last Updated:
January 30, 2014