Contraceptive pills could avert the onset of dementia in later life

Young women who are taking the contraceptive pill could be prevented from developing memory problems and dementia in their later years claims a new U.S. study.

In particularly it is believed that the group of female hormones, oestrogen, are the key. Oestrogen is present in contraceptive pills such as Dianette, Marvelon and Yasmin and scientists say it is linked to a better memory as it stops arteries from hardening and therefore increases the supply of blood into the brain.

It has long been common knowledge that Hormone replacement therapy (HRT), (also containing oestrogen) can help stave off dementia. However, it is only now that a study has emerged that has analysed the possible benefits of contraceptive pills.

Researchers from the University of Wisconsin decided to focus their investigations on 261 women who had conducted health surveys and were aged between 40 to 65.

The women had to perform memory tests such as naming as many words as possible about a particular subject as well as naming certain objects. What intrigued researchers was the fact that a lot of the woman who had been taking a contraceptive pill came out with better results than those women who had not. In addition, a correlation was established between length of time on the pill and a higher rate of scores the women managed to attain.

Researchers say that the oestrogen could also be promoting the growth of certain cells within both the brain and spinal cord in addition to maintaining blood flow to the brain.

The study, published in the Journal of Women’s Health, was led by researcher Kelly Egan, who said: “Our analysis indicated that hormonal contraceptive use may have a protective cognitive (memory) effect, even years after use is discontinued. This is especially true in subjects with a longer duration of use.”

Their study did not go into looking at the causes and risk factors for dementia however, or how it can be treated.

Dementia is a term given to a collection of related conditions that are connected to the on-going, gradual decline of the brain and changes to its structure, Memory, thinking, speech, understanding and judgement can all be severely impacted when someone is suffering from dementia, and the sufferer will almost always require some form of help from family and friends, in particularly in relation to decision making.

There are currently 570,000 people living with dementia just in England. Over the next 30 years it is predicted that this number is going to double. The most common type of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease, where there is a progressive loss of brain cells. There is no definitive cause of Alzheimer’s but it is believed to be due to a number of things such as lifestyle factors that are contributing to vascular disease, a family history of the condition and also has been linked to severe head injuries.

Unfortunately there are no medical cures for dementia and the condition will gradually worsen over time. However, if you or a family member has been diagnosed with dementia, The NHS, social services and voluntary organisations are able to give advice and offer any necessary support to help you and your family.

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