Can’t remember the name of the new work colleague? Forgot the city your best friend lives in? Can’t recall the movie you saw last week? Join the club. A little-known fact about loss of estrogen is that it takes a bit of memory with it when it goes. That’s why memory decline is a common feature in post-menopausal women. Insult to injury, if you ask me. Let’s face it, at this stage of the game, we can ill-afford to lose any bit of that precious function. In a new study, however, Australian researchers have found that small daily doses of testosterone gel applied to the upper arm improved verbal memory in postmenopausal women. Testosterone is an androgen—a male hormone—that governs all kinds of things in men, especially sex drive. Women produce testosterone, too, in the ovaries and adrenal glands, but in miniscule amounts, and its function
is not well understood. Testosterone levels drop quickly as women age until at age 40 a woman usually has about half the level of a 20 year old. It affects libido and has been used successfully to treat low sexual drive in women, but its long-term effects—or even correct dosages—haven’t been rigorously studied. Testosterone treatment
for women hasn’t been approved in either the U.S. or Canada, so it has to be prescribed “off-label.” That means either the physician prescribes an FDA-approved male pharmaceutical product in very small doses (usually about one-tenth of dose recommended for men) or the hormone is compounded specially by a pharmacist. In the Australian study, researchers found an intriguing link between verbal memory and testosterone in women. In the study, 92 post-menopausal women (between 55 and 65) were first given standard tests for cognitive function. Then they were randomly assigned to receive either a placebo or dosages of testosterone gel for 26 weeks. At the end of the treatment period, the women receiving testosterone had higher levels of the hormone in their system, and they scored 1.6 times better in tests of verbal memory (recalling words from a list). Scores on other tests remained the same between the two groups. While these results aren’t game-changers, they do represent one of those incremental steps that can lead to significant advances. “This is the first large, placebo-controlled study of the effects of testosterone on mental skills in postmenopausal women who are not on estrogen therapy," said Dr. Susan Davis, principal investigator in the study. Since there is currently no treatment for memory loss, and since women suffer from dementia in greater numbers than men, this link between testosterone and memory could be an important finding. Not to mention the potential side effect of improved libido.
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