CHICAGO -- The latest data from a long-running study of hormone therapy suggests that women who started taking hormone replacements within five years of menopause were 30 percent less likely to develop Alzheimer's disease than women who started years later.
The findings reported on Wednesday in the journal Neurology, add to evidence suggesting that taking hormone treatments around the time of menopause may be doing more than just helping women cope with hot flashes and night sweats.
"Our results suggest that there may be a critical window near menopause where hormone therapy may be beneficial," Peter Zandi of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, one of the study leaders, said in a statement.
The findings come as menopausal women and their doctors continue to parse out the risks and benefits of hormone replacement therapy.
Most researchers agree that hormone replacement does not protect women from diseases of aging, and taking these drugs for extended periods of time is associated with significant risks, including breast cancer, heart disease, and gallbladder disease.
Earlier this week, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force reaffirmed its 2005 guidelines recommending against the treatment as a way to prevent chronic disease.
But the influential advisory panel did not weigh in on the use of hormones to treat symptoms of menopause, a practice many professional societies endorse as long as the drugs are prescribed at the lowest possible dose for the shortest period.
The most definitive study on hormone replacement therapy to date comes from the Women's Health Initiative study, a large, randomized trial that was stopped early in 2002 when it became clear that women who were taking a combination of estrogen and progestin for five years had higher rates of ovarian cancer, breast cancer, strokes, and other health problems.
A related study, known as the Women's Health Initiative Memory Study, also showed an increased risk of Alzheimer's disease in women who took hormone therapy.
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