Researchers at the Alfred Psychiatry Research Centre at Monash University led by an Indian origin researcher have found that Oestrogen patches could be used to reduce the symptoms of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder in women.
Lead researcher Professor Jayashri Kulkarni said that women with schizophrenia who were given the oestrogen patches during the study showed a dramatic reduction in auditory hallucinations, reports ABC Online.
According to Kulkarni, the results, if replicated, could lead to new treatments for severe mental illness.
The researchers conducted an eight-week trial, in which 102 Melbourne-based women of childbearing age with schizophrenia were involved.
The researchers randomised women in the double-blind study to receive either a 100 microgram oestradiol patch, commonly used in hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to relieve menopause symptoms, or a placebo patch.
The participants continued to receive standard antipsychotic treatment during the trial.
Kulkarni said this is the first scientific evidence that has emerged to show oestrogen has a protective role in the onset of severe mental illness.
According to her, the findings could help explain why women develop mental illness later in life and are more vulnerable to its onset during periods of low oestrogen such as menopause and menstruation.
Kulkarni described the oestrogen patches by blocking key neurotransmitters in the brain.
She said that the development of auditory hallucinations, such as voices, is linked to the overstimulation of serotonin, while delusions are due to increased dopamine levels and oestrogen is an effective blocker of both serotonin and dopamine.
In another trial, women with bipolar disorder were given the breast cancer drug tamoxifen during a 28-day period.
Kulkarni said that women with bipolar disorder find their mania increases at times of high oestrogen production.
She said that while taking the anti-oestrogen tamoxifen the patients' symptoms of mania were reduced.
The researchers suggested that the treatment could also work for men, for Kulkarni's team completed a similar double-blind trial involving 52 men with schizophrenia, demonstrating similar improvements for those receiving the oestrogen.
However, the researchers said that their trials were too short to pick up any possible long-term side effects of the therapy.
The study will be published in the journal Archives of General Psychiatry.