Progesterone, Not Estrogen, Associated With Better Memory, Cognition


In younger postmenopausal women, higher progesterone levels were linked with improved memory and cognition; other hormones were unrelated to mood or cognition.

Lower estrogen levels in postmenopausal women were unrelated to changes in mood, memory, or other cognitive abilities, according to a study recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The study did find a possible link between higher progesterone levels and improved cognition among younger postmenopausal women, but the authors said more study is needed to confirm that finding.

Researchers led by Stanford University School of Medicine’s Victor Henderson, MD, professor of health research and policy and of neurology and neurological sciences, set out to help clarify the role of hormones in age-related brain disturbances.

For the study, they conducted a series of neuropsychological tests and assessed the serum concentrations of endogenous estradiol, estrone, progesterone, and testosterone in 643 healthy women not using hormone therapy. The women were divided into two groups: those who entered menopause less than 6 years ago and those who began menopause 10 years or more ago.

Henderson and his colleagues had hypothesized that higher levels of estradiol would be positively associated with memory performance in women who had experienced menopause more recently but not in women who had entered menopause longer ago. Instead, they found no significant link in either group.

Henderson said in a news release that the findings don’t “necessarily mean that estrogens are irrelevant to cognition, since we have no way of measuring estrogen directly at the brain level. But they imply that boosting blood levels of estradiol or estrone-even in younger postmenopausal women-may not have a substantial effect on cognitive skills one way or the other.”

Although hormone levels were unrelated to verbal memory, executive function or overall cognition, or to mood, the researchers found higher progesterone levels in younger postmenopausal women were associated with better memory and global cognition.

Pertinent Points:
- Lower estrogen levels in postmenopausal women do not bring about changes in mood or cognitive abilities.
- Higher progesterone levels in younger postmenopausal women, however, did seem to be linked to better memory and global cognition.



Henderson VW, St. John JA, Hodis HN, et al. Cognition, mood, and physiological concentrations of sex hormones in the early and late postmenopause.

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A.

2013 Nov 25. [Epub ahead of print]

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