Menopause slows down the “danger protein” behind Alzheimer’s, as scientists show for the first time

Is this why women are twice as likely to get dementia as men? Scientists show for the first time that the menopause slows down the “danger protein”.

  • About two-thirds of the 5 million Alzheimer’s patients in America are women
  • Scientists used to think this was because they lived longer than men
  • But now a new study suggests the difference could be linked to menopause

Scientists may be one step closer to discovering why women are much more likely to develop dementia than men.

They found that changes that occur during menopause release the brakes on a protein that causes inflammation in the brain.

Tests on the brains of Alzheimer’s patients show that levels of this protein – known as C3 – were six times higher in the brains of women with Alzheimer’s than in men.

Estrogen acts as a natural anti-inflammatory and is thought to play a role in suppressing C3. While sex hormone levels in men increase with age, estrogen levels in women drop sharply during menopause.

There is growing evidence of the role of menopause in causing Alzheimer’s.

Scientists may be one step closer to uncovering why women are so much more likely than men to get dementia - and it could be linked to menopause (file image)

Scientists may be one step closer to uncovering why women are so much more likely than men to get dementia – and it could be linked to menopause (file image)

According to statistics, about two-thirds of America’s 5.8 million dementia patients are women. The breakdown is the same in the UK.

Alzheimer’s is a life-changing disease in which people in the later stages lose the ability to remember events, walk, and even feed themselves.

There are currently no drugs that can reverse its effects — although one drug that is about to be approved has been shown in studies to slow the condition.

In the latest study, published today in Science Advances, experts examined 40 brains from men and women.

They were split equally by gender, and half came from people who had died from Alzheimer’s disease.

Tests revealed 1,449 different types of proteins in the brain that form with age – some of which have already been linked to Alzheimer’s, including C3.

Scientists at the Scripps Research Center in San Diego, California, suspect that menopause may be responsible for women's higher risk of Alzheimer's. Complement proteins, an important part of the body's immune system, can combine with nitric oxide and create

Scientists at the Scripps Research Center in San Diego, California, suspect that menopause may be responsible for women’s higher risk of Alzheimer’s. Complement proteins, an important part of the body’s immune system, can combine with nitric oxide and create “storms” of processed proteins. Normally this is avoided by estrogen, the scientists suggested. But in women, levels of this hormone drop after menopause, putting them at higher risk. The study found that levels of processed complement C3 were six times higher in female brains with Alzheimer’s than in men affected by the disease. These higher levels trigger inflammation and can also prompt immune cells to break down synapses on neurons — disrupting communication between them, a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease

Complement proteins – like C3 – trigger inflammation in cells to fight off infection.

However, they can react with nitric oxides and form a ‘modified’ type of complement that can set off a ‘storm’ in the body – increasing the risk of Alzheimer’s.

Normally, the modified proteins are removed by the sex hormone estrogen.

But in women, a drop in levels after menopause removes that protection, scientists suggest.

Previous studies have shown that modified proteins in the brain can not only trigger inflammation but also activate immune cells in the organ – called microglia.

These attack and destroy synapses on neurons, disrupting communication between cells. In Alzheimer’s patients have significant loss of synapses.

Previous research on human brain cells in the lab also showed that lowering estrogen levels led to an increase in levels of the modified C3 protein.

dr Stuart Lipton, a molecular medicine expert at Scripps Research in La Jolla, California, said: “Our new findings suggest that chemical modification of a component of the complement system contributes to the development of Alzheimer’s disease.

“This could at least partially explain why the disease predominantly affects women.”

He added: “Why women are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s has long been a mystery, but I think our findings provide an important piece of the puzzle that mechanistically explains the increased vulnerability of women as they age.”

HOW TO IDENTIFY ALZHEIMER

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive brain disorder that slowly destroys memory, the ability to think, and the ability to perform simple tasks.

It is the cause of 60 to 70 percent of dementia cases.

The majority of people with Alzheimer’s are 65 years and older.

More than five million Americans have Alzheimer’s.

It is not known what causes Alzheimer’s. Those who have the APOE gene are more likely to develop late-onset Alzheimer’s disease.

Signs and Symptoms:

  • Difficulty remembering newly learned information
  • disorientation
  • mood and behavior changes
  • Distrust of family, friends and professional caregivers
  • More severe memory loss
  • Difficulty speaking, swallowing and walking

Stages of Alzheimer’s:

  • Mild Alzheimer’s disease (early stage) – A person may be able to function independently but has memory lapses
  • Moderate Alzheimer’s (intermediate stage) – Typically the longest stage, the person may mix up words, become frustrated or angry, or have sudden behavioral changes
  • Severe Alzheimer’s disease (late stage) – In the final stages, people lose the ability to react to their surroundings, hold a conversation, and eventually control movement

There’s no known cure for Alzheimer’s, but experts recommend exercise, social interaction, and adding brain-boosting omega-3 fats to your diet to prevent or slow the onset of symptoms.

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Edmund DeMarche

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