The study, published on Wednesday in the American Academy of Neurology journal, found that post-menopausal women may have more of a brain biomarker called white matter hyperintensities.
White matter hyperintensities are small lesions which are visible on brain scans and become more common with age or for those who have uncontrolled high blood pressure.
These biomarkers have been linked to dementia, an increased risk of a stroke, and cognitive decline.
The study involved 3,410 people, of which 58 per cent were women. Of this group, 59 per cent were post-menopausal.
The average age of participants was 54, and 35 per cent of all participants had high blood pressure with half of these having uncontrolled high blood pressure.
Study author Monique M. B. Breteler, a scientist at the German Center of Neurodegenerative Diseases, said that while having these lesions doesn’t automatically mean people will have a stroke or get dementia, it does put people at higher risk.
“Our study examined what role menopause may have on amounts of these brain biomarkers,” she explained.
“Our results imply that white matter hyperintensities evolve differently for men and women, where menopause or factors that determine when menopause starts, such as variations in the aging process, are defining factors.”
Each of the study participants had MRI brain scans so researchers could calculate the amount of white matter hyperintensities for each participant.
It found that, in people older than 45, post-menopausal women had more of these lesions than men, and that the biomarkers accelerated faster with age in women than with men.
There was no difference in the amount of white matter hyperintensities found in pre-menopausal women and men of similar ages.
Researchers also noted that there was no difference between pre- and post-menopausal women who used hormone therapy. They suggested that this could mean hormone therapy post-menopause may not have protective effects on the brain.
“The results of our study not only show more research is needed to investigate how menopause may be related to the vascular health of the brain,” Breteler said.
“They also demonstrate the necessity to account for different health trajectories for men and women, and menopausal status. Our research underscores the importance of sex-specific medicine and more attentive therapy for older women, especially those with vascular risk factors.”