Hormone replacement therapy not linked to memory woes in postmenopausal women

Women taking hormone replacement therapy (HRT) following menopause won't suffer memory problems or declines in their cognitive abilities, according to a new study.

Researchers tracked more than 1,300 women who had been given hormone medications called conjugated equine estrogens (CEEs). The treatment consists of a synthetic mixture of estrogen, or female sex hormones, and is used to treat symptoms of menopause, including hot flashes and vaginal dryness. Hormone replacement therapy may also help stave off bone loss for older women.

But, previous research of women over 65 has linked the medication to cognitive deficits like memory loss and a two-fold risk increase for dementia.

For the new study, researchers randomized postmenopausal women between the ages of 50 and 55 to either receiving hormone therapy or placebo. After seven years, the researchers followed up with the women, and determined no overall differences in cognitive function scores between women taking the CEEs and the placebos. The research suggests giving the hormones at an earlier age of menopause may be more beneficial than prescribing them later.

"Our findings provide reassurance that CEE-based therapies when administered to women earlier in the postmenopausal period do not seem to convey long-term adverse consequences for cognitive function," wrote the researchers, led by Dr. Mark A. Espeland, a professor of biostatistics and researcher at the Women's Health Center of Excellence for Research at Wake Forest School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, N.C.

The researchers did, however, find some minor speech disturbances in some of the women taking CEEs longer-term, but said that finding was not statistically significant and may just be due to chance. The findings were published June 23 in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Menopause refers to the twelve months after a women's last menstrual period, representing the end of menstruation and fertility. The average age of menopause is 51, but it can occur in a woman's 40s or 50s, according to the Mayo Clinic.

In an accompanying commentary published in the same journal issue, Dr. Francine Grodstein, an associate professor of epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, wrote the new study was important because estrogen remains the most effective treatment for some menopause symptoms. But, she added the results may be a disappointment for some because while the findings showed no evidence of substantial cognitive decline, it showed no cognitive benefits either from women taking hormone replacement therapy.

Dr. Sue Decotis, clinical instructor of medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York, who specializes in hormone replacement therapies, told CBS This Morning that she wasn't a fan of this study because it involved CEEs, which she says are synthetic hormones derived from horse urine. She no longer uses those products in her practice, opting for human-derived estradiol instead. She thinks some hormone replacement studies find mixed results because they often lump different types of hormone therapies together.

"I think because they're not using the right product," said Decotis. "It's sort of using the wrong key to get into your apartment."

The Mayo Clinic has more information on treatments for menopause.