Previous studies had found that women 65 years old and older suffered lasting memory problems when they used hormone therapy to treat symptoms of menopause, such as hot flashes, vaginal dryness and trouble sleeping. Imaging tests even found that the brains of those older women assigned to hormone therapy had become smaller, compared to those who took a placebo. Currently, the government-backed U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends that postmenopausal women avoid hormone replacement therapy due to increased risks of heart disease, stroke, breast cancer and dementia. Some research, however, has suggested there may be a “window of opportunity” when women first enter menopause that allows the safe use of hormones to possibly decrease their risk of conditions such as heart disease. What the effects would be on younger women’s brains, however, has been unclear. For the new study, Espeland and his colleagues used data on 1,326 women between the ages of 50 and 55 in the Women’s Health Initiative Memory Study to see whether taking estrogen or estrogen and progesterone led to any problems or benefits in brain health.
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Hormone Therapy Safe in Early Menopause
The research suggests giving the hormones at an earlier age of menopause may be more beneficial than prescribing them later. “Our findings provide reassurance that CEE-based therapies when administered to women earlier in the postmenopausal period do not seem to convey long-term adverse consequences for cognitive function,” wrote the researchers, led by Dr. Mark A. Espeland, a professor of biostatistics and researcher at the Women’s Health Center of Excellence for Research at Wake Forest School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, N.C. The researchers did, however, find some minor speech disturbances in some of the women taking CEEs longer-term, but said that finding was not statistically significant and may just be due to chance. The findings were published June 23 in JAMA Internal Medicine . DHEA hormone eases menopausal hot flashes, boosts sex life: Is it safe?
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Hormone replacement therapy not linked to memory woes in postmenopausal women
Both times, they discovered that fewer hormone therapy patients died or had heart disease than the hormone-free patients. Researchers additionally found that fewer hormone therapy patients had breast cancer or other cancers, but because the findings were not statistically significant, they can only officially conclude that there was no difference in cancer risk for the hormone therapy group and the hormone-free group, Schierbeck said. Although the study is much smaller than WHI, doctors in the United States are calling it “important” and “encouraging” because it shows that women can relieve their menopausal symptoms, such as night sweats and hot flashes, without worrying that the long-term hormone therapy will eventually kill them. “This is the real response to the WHI results, and is far superior to KEEPS from last week,” said John Hopkins University medical professor Pamela Ouyang. KEEPS is the Kronos Early Estrogen Prevention Study, whose authors announced last week that hormone therapy is safe for younger menopausal women and improved their quality of life. But KEEPS followed only 727 women for four years, and its authors have yet to release their data. The time period was too short for researchers look at heart disease or deaths, so authors discussed heart disease risk factors instead.
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