A decade ago, researchers shocked women around the world when they abruptly halted a landmark clinical trial on hormone therapy, a drug regimen widely used to relieve hot flashes, night sweats, and other unpleasant symptoms of menopause.
Just five years in, the study results suggested that hormone therapy increased the risk of several serious health conditions, including breast cancer, heart disease, and stroke. A follow-up study soon added Alzheimer’s disease to the list, after finding that women taking hormones had higher rates of dementia than women taking placebo.
Since then, however, doctors have begun to reexamine hormone therapy and the conclusions of the trial, known as the Women’s Health Initiative. In the latest such study, published today in the journal Neurology, researchers report that taking hormones may actually lower, not raise, the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
But there’s a catch: The timing of therapy appears to be key. The study participants who initiated therapy within five years of starting menopause were 30% less likely than women who never took hormones to develop Alzheimer’s later in life. Outside that timeframe, by contrast, hormone therapy increased Alzheimer’s risk by a statistically insignificant 3%.
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