Hormone replacement therapy may be beneficial for women's memory

November 2, 2017, University of Southern California
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

A type of hormone replacement therapy may protect memory for some women, according to a new USC-led study.

The findings by USC researchers are the latest to indicate that may have some benefits, deepening scientific discussions about the pros and cons of the menopausal treatment.

"Our study suggests that estrogen treatment after menopause protects the that is needed for short-term cognitive tasks from the effects of stress," said Alexandra Ycaza Herrera, the study's lead author and a researcher at the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology.

Earlier studies have pointed to of the treatment. A combination therapy that uses both estrogen and progesterone has been linked to a higher risk of breast cancer, heart disease, stroke and blood clots.

The study was published on Nov. 2 in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.

The researchers found that taking estrogen-only therapy had lower levels of the and performed better on tests of "" following exposure to stress compared to women taking a placebo.

Working memory allows the brain to keep information immediately available for processing, such as when a shopper uses a mental grocery list to pick up items or when a student keeps specific numbers in mind as a teacher reads a word problem aloud in math class. Studies have documented that stress can impair working memory.

To measure the effect of on working memory under stress, Ycaza Herrera recruited 42 women with an average age of 66 from the USC Early versus Late Intervention Trial with Estradiol led by Howard Hodis, a professor at the Keck School of Medicine of USC and a coauthor of the new study.

Half of the postmenopausal women had been on estradiol, a type of estrogen therapy, for approximately five years, while the others had received a placebo.

Each participant visited USC twice. To induce a stress response during one visit, researchers asked participants to submerge their hand in ice water for about 3 minutes. For the control condition conducted during the other visit, the participants submerged their hand in warm water.

Before and after each visit, the researchers collected saliva to measure the women's levels of cortisol, estrogen, and progesterone. The researchers also ran a test of working memory called a "sentence span task," in which the women were each given a series and then asked whether each sentence made sense. They also were asked to recall the last word of each one.

All women performed equally well on the sentence span task after the condition. But after the ice bath, women taking the placebo experienced a spike in cortisol levels. They also demonstrated a decrease in working memory function.

By contrast, women receiving estrogen therapy had a smaller increase in cortisol and showed no decrease in working memory function.

"Hormone replacement may not be right for every woman, but women need to be able to have the conversation with their doctors," Ycaza Herrera said.

Explore further: Estrogen after menopause may blunt stress' effects on memory

More information: "Estradiol Therapy After Menopause Mitigates Effects of Stress on Cortisol and Working Memory," Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism (2017). DOI: 10.1210/jc.2017-00825

Related Stories

Estrogen after menopause may blunt stress' effects on memory

November 11, 2013
(HealthDay)—Estrogen therapy after menopause may help reduce the memory problems associated with stress in some older women, a small new study suggests.

The role of dosage in assessing risk of hormone therapy for menopause

July 27, 2017
When it comes to assessing the risk of estrogen therapy for menopause, how the therapy is delivered—taking a pill versus wearing a patch on one's skin—doesn't affect risk or benefit, researchers at UCLA and elsewhere ...

Do estrogen therapies affect sexual function in early postmenopause?

August 28, 2017
Transdermal estrogen therapy delivered through the skin modestly improved sexual function in early postmenopausal women, according to an article published by JAMA Internal Medicine.

For post-menopausal women, vaginal estrogens do not raise risk of cancer, other diseases

August 16, 2017
Women who have gone through menopause and who have been using a vaginal form of estrogen therapy do not have a higher risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer than women who have not been using any type of estrogen.

Estrogen alters memory circuit function in women with gene variant

April 25, 2017
Fluctuations in estrogen can trigger atypical functioning in a key brain memory circuit in women with a common version of a gene, NIMH scientists have discovered. Brain scans revealed altered circuit activity linked to changes ...

Researchers use gene therapy to extend estrogen's protective effects on memory

December 8, 2015
The hormone estrogen helps protect memory and promote a healthy brain, but this effect wanes as women age, and even estrogen replacement therapy stops working in humans after age 65. Now researchers at University of Florida ...

Recommended for you

A co-worker's rudeness can affect your sleep—and your partner's, study finds

December 14, 2018
Rudeness. Sarcastic comments. Demeaning language. Interrupting or talking over someone in a meeting. Workplace incivilities such as these are becoming increasingly common, and a new study from Portland State University and ...

A holiday gift to primary care doctors: Proof of their time crunch

December 14, 2018
The average primary care doctor needs to work six more hours a day than they already do, in order to make sure their patients get all the preventive and early-detection care they want and deserve, a new study finds.

Teens get more sleep with later school start time, researchers find

December 12, 2018
When Seattle Public Schools announced that it would reorganize school start times across the district for the fall of 2016, the massive undertaking took more than a year to deploy. Elementary schools started earlier, while ...

Large restaurant portions a global problem, study finds

December 12, 2018
A new multi-country study finds that large, high-calorie portion sizes in fast food and full service restaurants is not a problem unique to the United States. An international team of researchers found that 94 percent of ...

Receiving genetic information can change risk

December 11, 2018
Millions of people in the United States alone have submitted their DNA for analysis and received information that not only predicts their risk for disease but, it turns out, in some cases might also have influenced that risk, ...

Yes please to yoghurt and cheese: The new improved Mediterranean diet

December 11, 2018
Thousands of Australians can take heart as new research from the University of South Australia shows a dairy-enhanced Mediterranean diet will significantly increase health outcomes for those at risk of cardiovascular disease ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.