Estrogen could protect from Alzheimer's disease, highlighted in landmark study

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Alzheimer's disease

Estrogen could offer protection from Alzheimer's disease and other neurological disorders.

In one of the first comprehensive reviews of estrogen, researchers highlight a 2001 study by Lydia DonCarlos, PhD and colleagues that details how estrogen "decreases the risk and delays the onset and progression of Alzheimer's disease and schizophrenia, and may also enhance recovery from traumatic neurological injury such as stroke."

The research study recently reached a milestone of receiving 500 citations that surpasses the number received by other research publications for the same year, according to a count by Google Scholar and 471 citations indexed by Thomson Reuters' Web of Science. Since that time, multiple studies document the benefits and risks of estrogen. DonCarlos has continued to write reviews about how estrogen affects the brain.


"It's a natural way for the brain to protect itself, since the brain normally makes neuroprotective estrodial in response to injury," DonCarlos said. Estrogen decreases inflammatory responses that could protect from Alzheimer's disease, dementia and injury related brain disorders.

Most studies suggest that estrogen has beneficial effects on cognitive function, DonCarlos says. "But we still have a lot of research to do before recommending the use of estrogens in the clinic for this purpose." The chances of breast cancer, stroke and blood clots raises concerns that have led the researchers to explore other drugs for Alzheimer's protection that offer the same neuroprotection as estrogen.

The scientists are exploring drugs known as SERMs that could protect the brain without increasing the risk of breast cancer. An example is the drug tamoxifen that blocks estrogen receptors in the breast. In the bones, the effect is the opposite. The drug can protect women from osteoporosis.

Because most studies suggest estrogen can protect from Alzheimer's disease, researchers from Loyola University Health System plan to continue investigating the benefit of the hormone for protecting against brain disorders and even aid stroke recovery.