In Brief

A Hormone’s Puzzling Role in Dementia

Researchers find that women with high levels of adiponectin have a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease
September 19, 2012

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Women with high levels of adiponectin, a hormone that helps regulate the body’s response to insulin, have a higher risk of developing dementia, according to a study that appeared in Archives of Neurology.

The aim of the study, conducted by Ernst Schaefer, director of the Lipid Metabolism Laboratory at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts, and colleagues, was to tease out the connection between type 2 diabetes and cognitive decline, which have been linked in previous studies.

Because people with higher levels of adiponectin have a lower risk of developing diabetes, researchers thought the hormone might also protect people against dementia. But that is not what they found.

Over 13 years, 159 of the 541 women who were tracked for the study developed some form of dementia, including 125 cases of Alzheimer’s disease. The researchers found that having increased levels of adiponectin raised the women’s risk of dementia by 60
percent and of Alzheimer’s by 90 percent. Not enough men were tracked to determine whether the same held true for them.

The researchers point out that the adiponectin isn’t necessarily causing the dementia. They write that the levels of the hormone may have risen as a “protective response to vascular damage or changes in brain morphology,” conditions that some of the women may have had before the start of the study.

This article first appeared in the Summer 2012 issue of Tufts Nutrition magazine.