Alzheimer's and Women's Health: an Urgent Call
Two out of every three Alzheimer’s patients are women.
Even adjusting for lengthier lifetimes, women outnumber men 2:1 in the Alzheimer’s population. It is therefore urgent to acknowledge, investigate, and treat Alzheimer’s as a powerfully unrecognized and vital element in women’s health. At the Weill Cornell Women’s Brain Initiative, together with our colleagues at the University of Arizona, we have sought to answer the question that we didn’t hear many people asking. Why are women vulnerable?
We set out to shed light on this longstanding mystery by asking: what factors differentiate women from men, specifically as we reach middle age? The first and most obvious place to investigate was women’s fertility. Taking into account some diversity within, the biological systems and processes of fertility are common to all women. And equally ubiquitous across all women — in fact, one of the very hallmarks of women’s middle age — is the decline in fertility, and the beginning of menopause.
After rigorous study — and common knowledge to any woman in menopause — it turns out that from a biological perspective, menopause affects far more than fertility. When menopausal women experience various symptoms like hot flashes, night sweats, disturbed sleep, etc. they might not realize that these symptoms originate not in the ovaries, but in the brain. By using a brain imaging technique called positron emission tomography (PET), we demonstrated that the ebb in estrogen causes the loss of a key neuroprotective element in the female brain, with an aggressively higher vulnerability to brain aging and Alzheimer’s disease. Read the full story here.
Thanks to funding from the National Institute of Health/ National Institute on Aging (2P01AG026572, AG057931, 3P01AG026572-13S1), the Cure Alzheimer’s Fund, and Maria Shriver’s Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement, we are now in a unique position to unravel the molecular determinants of women's increased vulnerability to Alzheimer's -- and intervene. Our published studies are here.