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Study: Estrogen not effective treatment for Alzheimer's


February 22, 2000
Web posted at: 5:33 p.m. EST (2233 GMT)

(CNN) -- Researchers have found estrogen is not effective as a treatment for Alzheimer's disease in women, according to a study published in this week's Journal of the American Medical Association.

Scientists call the findings disappointing, especially in light of other, smaller studies showing estrogen effective in slowing the onset of symptoms such as memory loss, and even possibly as a prevention for the disease. However, the study's authors recommended further research into estrogen as a preventative treatment.

Approximately 4 million Americans have Alzheimer's disease, with twice as many female patients as male. One reason more women suffer is because they tend to live longer than men.

VideoCNN's Rhonda Rowland gives the details of the JAMA study.
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Previous research had suggested that estrogen could be helpful in treating women with the disease, and some doctors have been prescribing the hormone therapy for female Alzheimer's patients.

But researchers studying women who had had hysterectomies found estrogen replacement therapy did not work as a treatment. The hormone did not improve memory or slow mental deterioration in women with moderate Alzheimer's. A similar study on women who still had uteruses was published in the journal Neurology earlier this year with similar findings.

"This was a disappointing result, but at the same time it's important to know this," said Mary Sano, a researcher at Columbia University. "We often try to treat serious diseases, such as Alzheimer's disease, with anything that we think might be helpful."

This latest study does not mean all is lost with estrogen and Alzheimer's. Although hormone therapy doesn't seem to be beneficial once the disease is apparent, other research suggests estrogen may be effective in preventing or slowing the onset of Alzheimer's. A new study lead by Columbia University, called PREPARE, is designed to evaluate estrogen as a preventative therapy.

"It's possible that at our healthy stage, estrogen provides a protective benefit, so that other factors that may be responsible for Alzheimer's disease are reduced in terms of lowering the threshold," Sano said.

Hormone therapy isn't for everyone, as it can increase the risk of breast cancer. Researchers say at this time, the decision whether to take hormone replacements should not be based on the desire to prevent or delay Alzheimer's.

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Columbia University in the City of New York
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