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Reproductive history in women may influence dementia risk, study finds

Pregnancy, having multiple children and entering menopause at an older age may reduce a woman's risk for developing dementia, according to a new study. Photo by DigitalMarketingAgency/Pixabay
Pregnancy, having multiple children and entering menopause at an older age may reduce a woman's risk for developing dementia, according to a new study. Photo by DigitalMarketingAgency/Pixabay

April 5 (UPI) -- Becoming pregnant, having multiple children and entering menopause at an older age may reduce a woman's risk for developing dementia later in life, a study published Tuesday by PLOS Medicine found.

Conversely, undergoing a hysterectomy, being younger when their first child is born and being older when they experience their first menstrual period may increase a woman's risk for age-related declines in brain function, the data showed.

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The findings suggest reproductive and hormonal factors may influence dementia risk, the researchers said.

However, similar links between the number of children and dementia risk in women and men indicates that the physical experience of childbearing may not influence a person's likelihood for cognitive decline, they said.

"The similar association between the number of children and dementia risk observed for women and men indicates that the risk variation in women may be more related to social and behavioral factors in parenthood," study co-author Jessica Gong said in a press release.

This is opposed to "biological factors involved in childbearing," said Gong, a doctoral candidate at the George Institute for Global Health in Newtown, Australia.

About 6 million people in the United States have some form of dementia, or age-related cognitive decline that includes memory loss, according to the Alzheimer's Association.

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Women have about a two-fold higher risk for dementia than men, research suggests.

However, hormone therapy during menopause may lower women's risk for cognitive decline as they age, studies indicate.

For this study, Gong and her colleagues used data from the UK Biobank, a compendium of health information for 500,000 British adults, to examine dementia risk among 273,240 women and 228,965 men.

Less cumulative exposure to internally produced estrogen as a result of being older than average age at their first period, younger than average age at menopause and having a hysterectomy rose a woman's risk for dementia by up to 40%, the data showed.

However, pregnancy, even aborted pregnancy, as well as longer reproductive lifespan, older age at menopause and use of contraceptive pills appeared to lower a woman's risk for dementia by up to nearly 20%, the researchers said.

"Reproductive events related to shorter exposure to endogenous estrogen in women were associated with higher dementia risk," Gong said. "These findings highlight the vulnerability in dementia risk pertaining to women."

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