A woman with no children is 18% more likely to be diagnosed with dementia than a mother-of-two, a study of more than half a million people has found.
The Daily Mail’s recent article entitled “Motherhood and a later menopause may cut the risk of women developing dementia, study claims” explains that dementia is also 32% more likely in a woman who naturally enters menopause at the age of 47, compared to one whose menopause comes later at the age of 50. The study says that pregnancy and longer child-bearing years before menopause could help to thwart dementia, by exposing a woman to more estrogen within her lifetime. The hormone, at the right level in the body, can help to protect the brain.
This may explain an additional finding that women are 20% less likely to develop dementia, if they have previously taken the contraceptive pill.
Researchers in the United Kingdom examined 273,000 women and 229,000 men aged 40 to 69 who were followed up for almost 12 years on average to see if they developed dementia. The study aimed to look specifically at women, who are more likely to get dementia than men and make up two-thirds of dementia deaths. They looked at the role of ‘reproductive factors’ like their age when they started menopause, had a baby or went through puberty.
Jessica Gong, who led the study, from the George Institute for Global Health in Australia, said, “While the risk of developing dementia increases with age, we don’t yet know whether the higher rates seen in women are simply because they live longer. However, it’s possible that female-specific reproductive factors may be able to explain some of the sex differences.”
Beginning puberty earlier in life was connected to a reduced risk of getting dementia in the study findings. A woman who reported getting her first period after the age of 14, compared to one who had it at age 13, was almost a fifth more likely to develop dementia. The reason may be because of the estrogen needed to produce an egg every month after going through puberty. Beginning this monthly cycle earlier could result in a longer lifetime of exposure to estrogen, with its potentially beneficial effect on the brain.
This may also be the reason that women who went through menopause, at the age of 47 were at higher risk of dementia than those who entered menopause at age 50. On average, women go through menopause between the age of 45 and 55. Each year later it comes, the more estrogen they may have to protect their brain.
Among the people analyzed by researchers, who were part of the UK Biobank study, 1,866 women developed dementia, as did 2,202 men.
Women who had been pregnant were 15% less likely than those who had never been pregnant to get dementia.
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Reference: Daily Mail (April 5, 2022) “Motherhood and a later menopause may cut the risk of women developing dementia, study claims”