The number of times a woman gives birth can greatly affect her chances of developing Alzheimer’s Disease, according to a new study.
The research, which was done on more than 3,500 women in South Korea and Greece, found that women over the age of 60, who birthed at least five kids, may be 70 percent more likely to be afflicted by the disease than those who have given birth to fewer children. On the flip side, women who had experienced one or two incomplete pregnancies were much less likely to develop Alzheimer’s than women who had never been pregnant at all.
“Based on previous research, we expected that pregnancy with childbirth may be associated with the risk of Alzheimer’s disease,” study author Dr. Ki Woong Kim, a neuropsychiatrist at Seoul National University, told CNN. “However we were quite surprised that incomplete pregnancy was associated with the lower risk of Alzheimer’s, which we did not expect at the beginning of our research.”
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In the United States alone, 5.5 million people are living with Alzheimer’s — 3.4 million of which are women.
So, what gives? It appears to be a result of estrogen cycles during pregnancy.
“In animals, early pregnancy was associated with improved cognition while late pregnancy and early postpartum with impaired cognition,” Kim told CNN. “In both animals and humans, estrogen is neuroprotective when it is modestly elevated while neurotoxic when extremely elevated.”
Kim told CNN that by the third trimester, estrogen levels can spike “up to 40-fold higher” than during a woman’s menstrual cycle. However, within four days of giving birth, estrogen levels for most women quickly drop back to normal.
And this may be the problem, according to Kim, who says too many births may have a negative effect on women by continually exposing them to dramatic peaks and valleys of estrogen levels.
The takeaway here is that more research needs to be done, as women can be more susceptible to Alzheimer’s for multiple reasons.
James Hendrix, who directs the global science initiatives for the Alzheimer’s Association, agrees with the need for more research. He tells CNN he feels that it’s premature to suggest hormones are the main culprit.