The new study demonstrates that benefits of extended estrogen exposure and longer-term hormone therapy help in battling the cognitive decline
Estrogen has a very significant role in overall brain health and cognitive function. This is the reason that many studies focused on the prevention of cognitive decline consider the effect of reduced estrogen levels during the menopause transition.
A new study also suggests a cognitive benefit from a longer reproductive window complemented with hormone therapy. Study results are published online today in Menopause in the journal of The North American Menopause Society (NAMS).
Because women comprise two-thirds of the 5.5 million cases of Alzheimer’s disease in the US, researchers have suspected that sex-specific factors such as estrogen may contribute to women’s increased risk for the disease.
Multiple studies have also previously suggested a role for estrogen in promoting memory and learning.
In this newest study involving more than two thousand postmenopausal women, researchers had followed participants over a 12-year period to examine the association between estrogen and cognitive decline.
They focused on the duration of a woman’s exposure to estrogen more specifically taking into account such factors as the number of pregnancies, time of menarche to menopause, duration of breastfeeding, and use of hormone therapy.
The researchers also concluded that a longer duration of estrogen exposure is associated with better cognitive status in older adult women. They documented that these beneficial effects are extended with the use of hormone therapy furthermore, especially in the oldest women in the sample.
Women who initiated hormone therapy earlier have shown higher cognitive test scores than those who started taking hormones later, providing some support for the critical window hypothesis of hormone therapy.
Study results appear in the article called “Lifetime estrogen exposure and cognition in late life: The Cache County Study.”
Although the assessment of the risk-to-benefit balance of hormone therapy use is very complicated and must be individualized, this study provides additional evidence for beneficial cognitive effects of hormone therapy, particularly when its initiated early after menopause.
This study underscores the adverse effects of early estrogen deprivation on cognitive health in the setting of premature or early menopause without adequate estrogen replacement, says Dr. Stephanie Faubion who is The NAMS medical director.