Postmenopausal women showed improvements in verbal learning and memory after receiving treatment with testosterone gel, according to the results from a new study presented yesterday at The Endocrine Society's 95th Annual Meeting in San Francisco.
Menopause has been linked with memory decline because of a decrease in levels of the protective hormone estrogen. Yet testosterone also is an important hormone in women because it has a role in sexual desire, bone density and energy while improving mood. In men, studies have shown that testosterone replacement has favorable effects on brain function.
The study involved two groups of healthy postmenopausal women aged between 55 and 65. None of the women were receiving estrogen therapy. One group used a testosterone gel applied daily to the upper arm, while the second group received an identical-appearing gel containing none of the medication.
Before treatment and at 12 and 26 weeks of treatment, the subjects underwent comprehensive testing of their cognitive function using a range of computer-based tests. The researchers found no cognitive differences between the groups before the start of treatment.
Principal investigator Susan Davis, of Monash University (Australia), said that after 26 weeks the women who received testosterone therapy had a statistically significant and clinically meaningful improvement in verbal learning and memory.
"This is the first large, placebo-controlled study of the effects of testosterone on mental skills in postmenopausal women who are not on estrogen therapy," said Davis. "Our study has confirmed our findings from two smaller studies in postmenopausal women and suggests that testosterone therapy may protect women against cognitive decline after menopause."
The study notes that the women receiving testosterone therapy reported no major side effects and their testosterone levels remained in the normal female range.
Although further study is needed in more women, Davis said the results are important. "There is no effective treatment to date to prevent memory decline in women, who are higher risk of dementia than men," she noted.
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Source: The Endocrine Society