Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Menopause Health Center

Font Size

MRIs Show Slightly More Brain Decay in Women on Estrogen

WebMD Health News

May 5, 2000 -- A study's finding that elderly women who take estrogen have brains that are slightly more decayed than those of other women their age worries Teri Manolio, MD. She's worried not because of the finding -- she calls it a "very, very small difference" -- but because women who hear about it might stop taking their hormone replacement therapy.

Manolio, director of the epidemiology and biometry program at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHBLI), was part of a team that looked at sophisticated brain studies from 2,133 women with an average age of 75 years. Overall, the women who took estrogen scored better on tests of mental function. But magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans showed that specific areas of their brains had decayed more than those of women who didn't take estrogen. In some women, the more decay, or atrophy, there was, the worse they did on the mental-function tests.

In a paper published Friday in a medical journal, Manolio and co-workers note that the brain changes they detected have been linked to mental decline. Manolio tells WebMD that this means only that future researchers should keep this in mind -- not that patients should take action. "Our interpretation is that these are very small changes that don't make a clinical difference," she says. "They are probably more related to why people are taking the hormone than to the hormone itself."

Barbara B. Sherwin, PhD, co-director of the McGill University Menopause Clinic, was the first researcher to show that estrogen protects memory and improves new learning in menopausal women. "That was 15 years ago, and since then we have been doing a lot of studies to see if those findings hold up," she says. "It certainly has held up across time."

Sherwin, who was not involved in the NLHBI study, says that the authors focused too much on the difficult-to-read MRIs. "How do you account for the fact that [mental] functioning improved in estrogen users?" she asks. "They are putting all their money on [MRI] studies, rather than the fact that women who take estrogen are actually performing better as a group -- which seems to me to be the crucial thing. If they are finding small differences in their brains, it's hard to say what that means."

Today on WebMD

woman walking outdoors
How to handle headaches, night sweats, and more.
mature woman holding fan in face
Symptoms and treatments.
woman hiding face behind hands
11 ways to keep skin bright and healthy.
Is it menopause or something else?
senior couple
mature woman shopping for produce
Alcohol Disrupting Your Sleep
mature couple on boat
mature woman tugging on her loose skin
senior woman wearing green hat
estrogen gene

WebMD Special Sections