NOVEL and recently published research has demonstrated that individuals who have been through menopause may have increased levels of white matter hyperintensities than pre-menopausal individuals. These hyperintensities are tiny lesions visible on brain scans, which tend to become more common with age and high blood pressure. Previous literature has linked their presence with increased risk of stroke, cognitive decline, and Alzheimer’s disease.
Researchers recruited a study group of 3,410 people; 58% were female, and of those, 59% were post-menopausal. The volume of white matter hyperintensities were quantified through MRI scans of all participants.
“Our study examined what role menopause may have on amounts of these brain biomarkers. Our results imply that white matter hyperintensities evolve differently for men and women, where menopause or factors that determine when menopause starts, such as variations in the aging process, are defining factors,” stated study author Monique M. B. Breteler, German Centre of Neurodegenerative Diseases, Bonn, Germany.
During analysis, researchers adjusted for age and vascular risk factors, including high blood pressure and diabetes, and found that females had more of these white matter hyperintensities than males of a similar age. Post-menopausal females (aged 45 years and over) had an average total volume of 0.94 mL compared to 0.72 mL in males. Contrastingly, no difference in average volume of white matter hyperintensities was found between pre-menopausal females and males of a similar age.
Significantly, researchers found no significant difference between pre-menopausal and menopausal females using hormone therapy. Breteler postulated that the data suggest a protective effect of hormone therapy on the brain. Further to the impact of menopausal status, data from the study showed that females with high blood pressure tended to have more hyperintensities compared to males with high blood pressure.
“The results of our study not only show more research is needed to investigate how menopause may be related to the vascular health of the brain. They also demonstrate the necessity to account for different health trajectories for men and women, and menopausal status. Our research underscores the importance of sex-specific medicine and more attentive therapy for older women, especially those with vascular risk factors,” summarised Breteler.