Hormone therapy in early post-menopause increases sexual interest, but does not improve memory, according to a study in the Sept. 25 issue of the journal Neurology.
“Contrary to what we predicted, hormone therapy did not have a positive affect on memory performance in younger mid-life women,” said Pauline Maki, associate professor of psychiatry and psychology at the University of Illinois at Chicago, who led the study.
“If women want to improve hot flashes and night sweats - the primary reason most women seek menopausal relief - and they want to improve their sexual focus and interest, then this may be a formulation for them.”
Maki and her colleagues enrolled 180 women between the ages of 45 and 55 whose last menstrual cycle was in the past one to three years. The women were randomly assigned to receive either a placebo or a combination of estrogen and progesterone, also known as Prempro, for four months.
The study evaluated memory, attention, cognitive function, emotional status, sexuality and sleep.
No significant changes in cognitive function were identified in the newly menopausal women taking hormone therapy compared to the placebo group.
Although previous smaller studies have suggested that estrogen provides cognitive benefits in recently menopausal women, Maki said that progestin may counteract these positive effects.
Women treated with hormone therapy reported a 32 percent increase in sexual thoughts and a 44 percent increase in sexual interest when compared to women taking placebo, according to the researchers.
The study also found that women with vasomotor symptoms, such as hot flashes and night sweats, showed a reduction in symptoms and an improvement in overall quality-of-life when taking hormone therapy versus placebo.
The study, which is the largest randomized trial to date examining hormone therapy and memory in midlife women, was stopped early due to declining enrollment that coincided with results of the Women’s Health Initiative, which found that the associated health risks of the therapy outweighed the benefits.
The study was funded by Wyeth Pharmaceuticals.
In recently published related research, Maki has found that testosterone decreases verbal memory and neuronal activation in brain areas involved in memory in older men, suggesting possible detrimental effects of testosterone supplementation, particularly with higher doses.
With colleagues at UIC she is also investigating whether botanical therapy, such as black cohosh and red clover, might offer cognitive benefits for mid-life women.
Source: University of Illinois at Chicago