Endogenous and Exogenous Estrogen, Cognitive Function, and Dementia in Postmenopausal Women: Evidence from Epidemiologic Studies and Clinical Trials

Elizabeth Barrett-Connor, M.D.; Gail A. Laughlin, Ph.D.

Disclosures

Semin Reprod Med. 2009;27(3):275-282. 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction

Abstract

There are more than 200 published scientific papers showing that estrogen has favorable effects on brain tissue and physiology in cell culture and animal models including non-human primates. The biological plausibility for a neuroprotective estrogen effect is overwhelming. However, most studies of endogenous estrogen and cognitive decline or dementia in women fail to show protection, and some suggest harm. Failure to find any consistent association might reflect the limitations of a single time of estrogen assay or poor assay sensitivity. More than half of the observational studies of hormone therapy suggest benefit. Nearly all long-term clinical trials fail to show benefit, and the longer trials tend to show harm. Failure to adequately adjust for self-selection of healthier and wealthier women and publication bias could account for some, or all, of the protective effect attributed to estrogen in observational studies. Overall, the evidence does not convincingly support the prescription of early or late postmenopausal estrogen therapy to preserve cognitive function or prevent dementia.

Introduction

There are more than 200 published scientific papers showing that estrogen has favorable effects on brain tissue and physiology in cell culture and animal models including non-human primates. The biological plausibility for a neuroprotective estrogen effect is overwhelming.[1,2]

In this article, we review the remarkably less consistent and less convincing evidence for a favorable estrogen effect on preservation of cognitive function and prevention or delay of dementia in postmenopausal women.

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