Women who are concerned about memory loss as they age are probably confused. Many experts say taking estrogen supplements can help preserve your memory. But some studies suggest they don't work. What's the truth?
Apparently, it depends on when you start taking them. A new study out of Norway suggests that women who start taking estrogen supplements before or at the start of menopause and continue with them for a few years have better preserved brain structure. And this may reduce the risk of dementia.
In the study, researchers from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) followed 160 women. One group of 80 women had used estrogen supplements through menopause. The other group of 80 women never used estrogen supplements. All of the women had participated in the general population-based Nord-Trøndelag Health Study (HUNT).
The researchers looked at MRIs of the brains of the women. They showed that the women who took estrogen supplements throughout menopause had a larger hippocampus. The hippocampus is a structure in the brain that's crucial for memory. It's also one of the structures most affected during the early stages of Alzheimer's disease. When the hippocampus begins to shrink, memory loss is one of the symptoms.
Carl Pintzka, a medical doctor and PhD candidate at NTNU, said: "We also examined the shape of the hippocampus and found that areas where hormone therapy had the greatest effect are the same areas that are affected by Alzheimer's disease in its early stages." He said the "estrogen supplements can have a positive effect against dementia if women start early enough with treatment."
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Understandably, some women have concerns about taking estrogen, even bio-identical estrogen. Speaking of conventional estrogen, WebMD says, "On its own, estrogen causes a slight increase in the risk of strokes, blood clots, and other problems. When combined with the hormone progestin, the risks of breast cancer and heart attack may rise as well. Oral estrogen — like any estrogen therapy — can also cause side effects. These include painful and swollen breasts, vaginal discharge, headache, and nausea." So what can you do if you don't want to take estrogen?
My good friend and colleague, Dr. Janet Zand, who writes Women's Health Letter and Skin Care Insider, has a great suggestion: maca. She says, "This herb grows in South America, particularly Peru, and women there have used it successfully for centuries to support a wide range of female-specific issues....
"Clinical case studies have supported maca's efficacy in treating premenstrual syndrome, menopause symptoms, and even symptoms of hypothyroidism. Some doctors like to use it in place of bioidentical hormones or in combination with them, particularly for patients who are trying to get weaned off of hormone replacement therapy. Many doctors who offer patients a choice of maca or bioidentical hormones report that both groups see equal benefits.
"If you've never taken bioidentical hormones and would like to give maca a try, it's fine to do so on your own, as long as you use maca from a reputable, organic source....
"One caveat of maca is that you should not begin taking it without your doctor's supervision if you are already using hormone replacement therapy, as you don't want to distort your prescriptions. You should also discuss maca with your doctor if you have osteoporosis so that he or she can help you establish a baseline of your bone health and avoiding getting a 'false positive' test result when hormones in your urine are tested."
I think maca is a great option for anyone wanting to see the effects of estrogen without the side effects. Janet likes "Femmenessence, produced by Natural Health International. You can find this company's products on Amazon, and it offers a variety of formulations depending on your needs. If you're taking maca to support brain health, try Femmenessence Macapause, which is designed for women 50 and up."
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