Estrogen Improves Memory and Cognition in Menopause

At a recent meeting of North American Menopause Society I had the opportunity to interview Dr. Pauline Maki, a professor of Psychiatry/Psychology at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She talked to me about how women can improve their memory and cognition in menopause and perimenopause with the use of estrogen.

Dr. Maki discussed how hormones like the ones that produce hot flashes affect other areas of a women’s life. She said, “60 percent of women have complaints of memory problems as they transition through menopause. Specifically, in Asian women, memory problems are the second most frequent complaint. Women often ask me, ‘Is there any reality to what I think is happening in my brain?’ and in fact, there is. People have tracked memory performance in women while they transition through the menopause and studies have shown that there are decreases on objective measures of cognitive testing. The good news for women is that the largest of these studies show that women bounce back. In other words, the memory symptoms are really within this window of transition and then the brain adapts somehow and the memory problems are no longer apparent.”

Dr. Maki then went on to explain that women are most vulnerable during a certain window of time during the greatest fluctuation in estradiol and FSH which is the two years before the final menstrual period and the two years after.

When recommending what to discuss with a doctor in regards to hormone therapy Dr. Maki said that the one symptom that might be related to memory problems in women are vasomotor symptoms like hot flashes and night sweats. Now, one doesn’t see this relationship when one looks at self-reported hot flashes, but what we do is hook women up to monitors that objectively monitor any hot flashes that she is having. Women actually under report the amount of hot flashes they have. When you correlate the number of objective hot flashes that a women have with their memory performance you see a very strong relationship. The women who are having frequent objectively measured hot flashes are having worse memory performance.

So, if you’re transitioning through the menopause and you’re having moderate to severe hot flashes, in addition to treating them because you think it might improve your quality of life, you may gain some memory benefits, not only through reduction and hot flashes but also through direct effects of estrogen on the brain centers that allow your body to remember.

Have you talked to your doctor about your treatment options? What concerns do you have about your own memory or cognition? Please share in the comments section.

Until next time,

Dr. Mache Seibel, Professor, University of Massachusetts Medical School

And Founder of My Menopause Magazine

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Professor, University of Massachusetts Medical School

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