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Why are we Told Only Half the Story about HRT and Dementia?

by Maryon Stewart(more info)

listed in women's health, originally published in issue 247 - July 2018

Feeling like you are losing your memory at midlife can be very scary, especially if you think it’s a permanent situation. Many women secretly wonder if these ‘senior moments’ are the beginning of dementia and are truly frightened. If you forget what you were saying mid-sentence, what you went
into a room for or where you put your car keys you are not alone. It’s one of the commonest
symptoms of the menopause and it makes women feel scared and vulnerable.

Cartoon Cruising Through the Menopause
Cruising Through the Menopause

A study published this week in the Neurology Journal, reporting that HRT potentially decreases the risk of dementia in women taking HRT, would understandably make the ears of many menopausal women prick up enthusiastically.  On the surface it sounds like a compelling argument to persuade women to take hormones for the management of menopause with benefits, but what’s most infuriating is that it’s only half the story. When I read the publication, I was astonished to discover that these findings only related to HRT patches and that those on oral HRT had a greater rate of decline in whole brain volume year on year of this study; and it took time after the study for the brain volume to adjust.  Even more horrifying, they found an increase in white matter lesions in the brain in the oral therapy group which persisted during the active part of the study and this didn’t appear to correct itself after the study. I was shocked to discover that these lesions are associated with an increased risk of stroke, dementia, and death.  How could I then be surprised to see that financial support for the research came from pharmaceutical companies?

Women also aren’t understandably being told by the Pharmaceutical industry that science also clearly shows that we can prevent dementia naturally, without having to resort to drugs or hormones.  They are presenting rose coloured information, understating the risks associated with HRT including the rising risk of breast cancer, stroke and blood clots.

Some studies have also found that hormone therapy
is associated with depression in post-menopausal women; post-menopause begins on the anniversary of your last period and lasts for the rest of your life. One study on over two thousand women concluded that the proportion of participants with depressive mood and suicidal thoughts was significantly higher in the HRT group. More than ten years of HRT treatment, for example, was linked with
a doubling of suicidal thoughts when comparing the hormone users with women who hadn’t taken hormones to manage their menopause.

We also found in our own surveys that women report weight gain of over 18lbs in the first year on HRT which is a depressing thought in itself when they are generally already battling to get their zips to close at midlife.



Overcoming Brain Fog


Reasons our Brain Fades

Being forgetful doesn’t automatically mean you are not losing your marbles. Experts say we all start to forget things as we age. When asked to memorize a list of 75 words read out five times, the average 18-year-old scores 54, a 45-year-old scores 47 and a 65-year-old scores just 37.

No one knows the reason for sure, but it’s thought most memory problems at this time of life are due to poor concentration, lack of motivation, tiredness, anxiety or stress, rather than loss of brain cells.  In fact, when we die it’s thought that only half our brain capacity has been used so it’s not a case of our ‘hard drive’ being full.

Feeling fuzzy-headed is also thought to be related to the hormonal ups and downs associated with menopause. Some parts of the brain particularly involved with verbal memory are rich in oestrogen receptors, so there could be a genuine physiological link between hormonal status and brain function. This is confirmed by research undertaken by Dr Sandra File at Guy’s Hospital in London.

Rekindling Our Memory Naturally

As we grow older, our circulation slows down, thus less oxygen reaches our brain cells, so it’s no surprise we aren’t as sharp. Many of us don’t stretch our brains as much as we could. Like muscles, our brain needs to be used to function at optimum levels. The good news is forgetfulness doesn’t have to be an inevitable part of getting older. Following a nutrient-dense and phytoestrogen-rich diet, leading an active lifestyle and keeping your brain well exercised will help keep you sharp.


Stewart 247 HRT and Dementia


Food for Thought

The brain is dependent on glucose, essential fats and phospholipids for good health.  Several B vitamins are also essential for normal memory and mental performance.  Zinc and magnesium are necessary for neuro-transmitter metabolism. So it follows that including certain nutrients in your diet can boost your concentration, attention spans, as well as short-term and long-term memory. Current research also suggests that brain-boosting supplements can help improve your memory skills.

  • Ginkgo Biloba, a herbal extract made from the leaves of the Chinese Maidenhair tree has gained recognition over the past 30 years as a brain tonic that helps restore vascular function and memory;
  • More than 200 medical studies have been published most indicating the benefits of taking daily supplements.  Ginkgo improves circulation which in turn increases blood flow, carrying more nutrients and oxygen to the brain.  This helps restore short-term and long-term memory, helping you think more clearly and concentrate better;
  • Foods rich in the antioxidant Vitamins A, C and E help mop up free radicals, the rogue molecules that can cause excessive cell damage in the body including the brain.  Good sources include richly coloured vegetables, such as bananas, red peppers, spinach and oranges;
  • Oily fish is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, as well as folic acid, all of which are vital for the smooth functioning of the brain and nervous system.  Good sources include sardines, salmon, herring, pilchards and mackerel;
  • In the past few years, research has confirmed that eating soya improves the memory not just in the younger generation, but also in menopausal women.  The oestrogen-like effects of isoflavones have led to speculation that soya may also help maintain cognitive function in older women and reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
  • A healthy diet, regular exercise, not smoking and watching what you drink will help keep your brain sharp and reduce your risk of dementia.

Stay Sharp

Many studies show that stimulation is the key to good memory and that people who take part
in lots of different types of activity have better powers of recall. The more active your brain is, the better your memory is likely to be, and the more different ways you use your mind, the easier it will be to remember things. It’s all to do with being active, rather than passive: whether you actively concentrate and focus on things or whether you just let them wash over you. Try the following exercises to sharpen your mental faculties:

  • Do a mental exercise every day - a crossword, Sudoko, word search or quiz. If you don’t know the answer, look it up, then try to remember it the next day;
  • When doing your finances, ditch the calculator and use your brain instead;
  • Take up new activities – gardening, knitting or anything active involving your hand-eye or
foot-eye coordination;
  • Make shopping lists, then memorize them before going to the shops;
  • Engage in activities that stretch your brain, such as chess, bridge or anything that pushes you that little bit further.


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About Maryon Stewart

Maryon Stewart BEM, is the pioneer of the natural menopause movement. She is a renowned healthcare expert specializing in PMS, Menopause and a pioneer in the field of non-drug medicine. Using her years of knowledge and expertise, she coaches women in understanding the information, tools and techniques needed to get well, to the point that they are able to manage all their symptoms.

Maryon has written 27 popular self-help books, co-authored a series of medical papers, written regular columns for numerous daily newspapers and magazines, had her own radio show,  as well as contributed to a variety of TV series including Channel Four’s Model Behaviour, where she was the nutritionist. Maryon also created and presented her own TV series, The Really Useful Health Show.

Maryon was awarded a British Empire Medal in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours List in 2018 for services to drug education following her successful seven year campaign in conjunction with the experts at the Angelus Foundation which she established in memory of her daughter Hester. Join Maryon’s next self-help Masterclass at .

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