Can sex hormones save us from dementia?
Can sex hormones save us from dementia?


Can sex hormones save us from dementia?

Even though we know that a lot of diseases affect men and women differently, traditionally a disproportionate amount of research has been done in males (either in male animals or on male cells/human subjects), which means that often women are medically treated as if they were men.

Macquarie University PhD student Josien de Bie is working to understand the interactions of sex hormones with our physiology in the hopes of unlocking new treatment mechanisms, especially for diseases that show a marked gender bias.

“We know that men and women are inherently different, and yet we have been treating them the same way,” she says.

Food for thought

Her research involves treating human brain cells with estrogen or testosterone, and then testing the response of the male and female brain cells by looking at  how much tryptophan they use up and turn into other molecules. She specifically studies the major pathway for processing tryptophan; the kynurenine pathway.

Tryptophan, found in foods like cheese, eggs and asparagus is an essential building block for the body’s molecules and can be used by the body in lots of ways.

“It can be a building block for serotonin, which influences your mood, or melatonin, which influences sleep, it can be a source of energy for the immune system, or it can be turned into kynurenine which can impact the immune system and the brain.

“We know that when people get sick, how the body uses tryptophan and what it turns tryptophan into changes. We also know that in a lot of the diseases in which the pathway changes, there is a big gender difference. For instance, we know that the kynurenine pathway is changed in patients with Alzheimer’s disease.

“We also know that more men than women get Alzheimer’s. What we don’t know is why.”

She says here is a growing body of evidence that the kynurenine pathway plays are part in a lot of disorders, such as motor neurone disease, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, depression and schizophrenia.

“We also know that sex hormones and gender are a factor in these same disorders. What we need to know is how the two are connected.

“Research into schizophrenia is revealing than men tend to get it when they are younger, while in women it is more likely to be diagnosed post-menopause, which indicates there is some link to sex hormone production that could potentially be treated or managed by giving someone the right dose of a sex hormone,” she says.

A similar possibility exists in the treatment of Alzheimer’s, where men are more likely than women to get the disease.

“Perhaps giving estrogen to at risk men may increase their resistance to the disease,” de Bie says. “That’s still off in the future, but it certainly provides us with interesting avenues to explore.”

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Comments (4)

  1. D. Martin

    I had a historectomy for a prolapse years ago, and have been taking o.625 mg Premerin daily for many years. I am told I appear 15 years younger than my age (nearly 90), seldom feel depressed, sleep well, and take a keen interest in finding out things on Google. I am still vigorous though not so fast as I was. I would be interested in talking to Josien de Bie if she so desired.

    1. Josien

      That is fascinating! I found it really rather surprising that there is so little known about the effects of hormones, even though w treat people with hormones or hormone analogs. I would love to hear more about your story!

  2. Yvonne Hudacek

    This looks hopeful research. However, I argue that Schizophrenia often follows Marihuana use in adolescents.


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