TAKING hormone replacement therapy may significantly raise Alzheimer’s risk, research suggests.
Hundreds of thousands of women use the treatment to tackle the misery of menopause.
It works by boosting levels of female sex hormones to compensate for the natural loss of oestrogen caused by ageing.
Finnish scientists analysed data on 170,000 women.
The BMJ study found taking HRT pills long-term raised Alzheimer’s risk between nine and 17 per cent in those who started treatment in their 50s.
And researchers said chances seemed to be even greater in older women.
Scientists think the hormones may drive early brain changes that lead to Alzheimer’s
Their findings suggest up to an extra 18 extra annual cases are caused per 10,000 long-term HRT users.
Researcher Dr Tomi Mikkola, from Helsinki University, said he was initially surprised by the findings.
He said younger women should still get HRT if they are struggling with menopause, but over-60s should think twice.
Dr Mikkola said: “Long term use of systemic hormone therapy might be accompanied with an overall increased risk for Alzheimer’s disease.
Women over 60 should think twice about using HRT
“And the findings suggest the risk is even higher in women who started treatment in their 60s.
“We know Alzheimer’s begins ten or 20 years before symptoms. It is possible HRT somehow speeds up these early changes in those prone to the disease.”
The average age for menopause in the UK is 51 – with around two million Brits affected at any one time.
Symptoms include hot flushes, mood swings and loss of sexual desire and vaginal dryness.
Taking HRT effectively eradicates these signs and also boosts bone health.
What are the other risk factors for Alzheimer’s?
A healthy lifestyle can help reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.
It’s been estimated that up to half the cases of Alzheimer’s disease worldwide may be the result of seven key modifiable risk factors:
But it’s important to remember that most cases happen regardless of how healthy you are.
Age and genetics both play a massive role.
Uptake of HRT has fallen sharply in recent years
But following cancer scares, uptake has fallen sharply. Studies show it raises the risk of breast and ovarian tumours, as well as stroke.
Annual NHS prescriptions were 2.24 million in 2014, compared to six million in 2000.
Around four in five UK women take HRT in pill form.
Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs, said patients should not be “alarmed” by the results.
She said: “HRT can be of greatest benefit to many women who are suffering from some of the unpleasant side-effects of the menopause – and there is a large body of evidence that shows it is an effective and safe treatment for most.
“However, as with any medication there are risks.”
Around 850,000 Brits have dementia – with two-thirds of cases being Alzheimer’s.
Dr James Pickett, head of research for the Alzheimer’s Society, said: “This large and well-controlled study adds to a conflicting pool of evidence around the effect of hormone therapy on risk of developing dementia.
“In this case, some women on hormone therapy had a slight increased risk of Alzheimer’s, but this increase was so small it shouldn’t cause alarm or deter women from their prescribed treatment.”
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