Study: Estrogen pills may increase women's risk of Alzheimer's

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Estrogen pills appear to slightly increase the risk of Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia in postmenopausal women, according to a government study entitled "Women's Health Initiative" published in Wednesday's Journal of the American Medical Association.

Researchers tracked nearly 3,000 women, ages 65 to 79, who had undergone hysterectomies and had taken daily estrogen-only pills made by Wyeth Pharmaceuticals (known as Premarin) for an average of five years.

Twenty-eight women who took estrogen were diagnosed with dementia, compared with 19 taking benign pills. Although the results were not statistically significant due to the small sample, the trend was troubling, said co-researcher Stephen Rapp, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral medicine at Wake Forest University.

In addition, 76 women on estrogen developed mild bouts of forgetfulness, compared with 58 women in the placebo group. All told, researchers found estrogen users faced a 38% increased risk of developing dementia or forgetfulness.

Wyeth and Wake Forest funded the analysis by Shumaker, Rapp and colleagues. Shumaker has served as a consultant for Wyeth.