Health In Focus


  • Estradiol therapy, a type of estrogen therapy, after menopause protects working memory from the effects of stress.
  • Women who took estrogen-only therapy showed lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol and performed better on "working memory" tests.
  • The positive effects of hormone replacement therapy should be considered along with its side effects before making the decision to obtain treatment.

Estradiol therapy, a type of hormone replacement therapy has beneficial effects in some women. A research team from the University of Southern California has reported that Estradiol therapy, an estrogen therapy, lowers levels of stress hormone, cortisol, and also mitigates the effect of stress on working memory in menopausal women. The study findings are published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.

Study Overview:

Menopause has several effects on women and one of the most prominent is stress. Previous studies have shown that stress impairs cognitive abilities including working memory. This study was conducted to measure the effects of estrogen therapy on working memory under stress.
Estradiol Therapy After Menopause Relieves Effects of Stress on Working Memory

Forty two women with an average age of 66 years were recruited from the USC Early versus Late Intervention Trial with Estradiol led by Howard Hodis, a professor at the Keck School of Medicine of USC. 50% of these women were on estradiol for five years and the other half received placebo.

In order to induce stress, women were asked to immerse their hand in ice water for 3 minutes and the control was to immerse hands in warm water. Working memory was tested using a test called the sentence span task, where women were given a series of sentences and asked to recall the last word of each of those sentences. Each woman's saliva was tested before and after the test to measure cortisol, estrogen and progesterone levels.

Study findings:

While all women performed equally well on the memory test with hands in warm water, that wasn't the case when the stress was induced. Women who received the placebo showed a decrease in working memory, as well as a spike in cortisol. On the other hand, women who were on estradiol showed significantly lower levels of cortisol and no decrease in working memory.

"Our study suggests that estrogen treatment after menopause protects the memory that is needed for short-term cognitive tasks from the effects of stress," said Alexandra Ycaza Herrera, the study's lead author and a researcher at the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology.

Hormone replacement therapy (HRT):

Hormone replacement therapy is a treatment that aims to relieve symptoms of menopause. HRT has constantly been on the forefront for its potential risks and benefits. While there are several cons to this menopausal treatment, studies revealing the benefits have been lower. Studies have shown that combination therapy using estrogen and progesterone has high risks of breast cancer, stroke, vaginal bleeding and heart diseases. However, it is important to note that each woman is different and her risks and benefits from HRT may vary significantly from others.

"Hormone replacement therapy may not be right for every woman, but women need to be able to have the conversation with their doctors," Ycaza Herrera said.

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