Is Estrogen Good for the Brain?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011 // Uncategorized

  • Millions of women take estrogen at the time of menopause to prevent menopausal symptoms.  This can increase the risk of uterine cancer if not combined with progesterone.  The benefits of taking hormones were touted as maintaining bone density, reducing cognitive decline and reducing the risk of heart disease. Unfortunately, taking estrogen with progesterone slightly increases the risk of breast cancer AND  dementia. Some people think that the timing of the administration of estrogen that may be important.  Taking estrogen early may have positive effects without the negative. This article from the Wall Street Journal adds fuel to that discussion.
  • November 14, 2011, 9:14 AM ET


Study Suggests Estrogen Is Good For the Brain

Short-term estrogen treatments increase the brain’s gray matter among women who have gone through menopause, a time when the brain works measurably harder to focus on simple memory tasks, researchers reported Sunday.

To assess the cognitive benefits of the controversial hormone therapy, researchers at Vanderbilt University and the University of Vermont studied two dozen healthy, post-menopausal women by giving 12 of them a standard daily dose of estrogen for three months and giving the other 12 a placebo.

Using magnetic resonance brain scanning, the scientists found that the hormone treatment had a significant effect on brain anatomy, by increasing the volume of gray matter in the brain’s cortex, where attention, decision-making and memory are centered.

“We are seeing actual differences in gray matter density,” said Paul Newhouse, director of Vanderbilt’s Center for Cognitive Medicine, who reported the group’s findings Sunday at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in Washington, D.C.

The researchers said that the structural brain changes are evidence that women might only have to take estrogen for a relatively short time to prevent the mental lapses that often accompany menopause, avoiding the risk of serious adverse side effects associated with long-term hormone therapy.

“It’s going out on a limb, but this change in gray matter density might be important in helping to preserve cognitive function,” Newhouse said. “That could be good news.”

For now, I think that if women want to take hormone replacement, they should consider doing it for several years and not for forever.


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