One of the most frustrating side effects some women experience with menopause is an increase in the number of “senior moments”; memory lapses, fogginess and a lack of mental clarity. Is this an inevitable part of aging, or can cognitive function actually be improved with estrogen replacement therapy? Fortunately, numerous studies have not only documented the role of estrogen on cognitive functioning, but also show that replacing declining estrogen production can eliminate the fuzzy thinking which can accompany menopause.
Estrogen and Memory
Most people associate estrogen with reproduction, but research has discovered that this hormone has wide-ranging influence, including a distinct role in cognitive functioning. Scientists have discovered large concentrations of estrogen receptors in the areas of the brain which regulate memory and other cognitive functions. Estrogen is integral in supporting neuron communication by regulating neurotransmitters and protecting the neurons from damage. Estrogen also increases the amount of the enzyme needed to synthesize the brain chemical acetylcholine which plays a critical role in memory.
Numerous studies of postmenopausal women appear to reinforce estrogen’s role in preventing mental deterioration. For instance, these confirm that postmenopausal women who take estrogen have better visual memory; are able to learn new things faster; score higher on verbal, cognitive and motor skills tests, and experience less cognitive decline than women of the same age who do not take replacement hormones.
Some studies indicate that starting hormone replacement during or immediately following menopause maximizes the ability of estrogen to prevent memory loss, cognitive impairment, and Alzheimer’s disease. As far as Alzheimer’s is concerned, the estrogen appears to work best as a preventative measure rather than a treatment once the disease has already progressed. In fact, women who take estrogen supplementation at the beginning of menopause for even six months had a lower incidence of the disease later in life.