Hormone replacement therapy is a well-known treatment for the horrible hot flushes and night sweats of menopause. Apparently, women sometimes take postmenopausal hormones not only to ease the symptoms of menopause, but also to stay sharp.
Doctors may not prescribe hormones for this purpose, but we would all like to avoid cognitive decline as we age. Some women believe that HRT is good for their brains. Is there anything to this idea?
Postmenopausal Hormones Fail to Preserve Cognitive Function:
A randomized placebo-controlled trial included 567 healthy women between 41 and 84 years of age. The women were randomly assigned to take estradiol or a look-alike placebo for five years. The investigators could find no connection between cognitive decline and whether women took hormone therapy or placebo.
The women assigned to estradiol also used a vaginal progesterone gel to protect the uterus from endometrial cancer. Those on placebo estrogen applied a placebo vaginal gel. Unopposed estrogen-that is, estrogen without progesterone-stimulates overgrowth in the lining of the uterus that can become cancerous.
Testing Brain Power:
The women took tests of cognitive function and verbal memory three times. They were tested at the beginning of the study, halfway through and at the close of the study. All the women improved their verbal memory scores, presumably as a result of practice. The women on estradiol and those on placebo improved equally.
It did not matter whether the women were experiencing hot flashes or not. Both groups had similar improvements in scores regardless of their symptoms.
The researchers thought that the length of time that had elapsed since menopause might determine whether or not women benefited from postmenopausal hormones. But it turned out that made no difference, either. The bottom line is that women can’t count on hormones to protect their brain power.