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Can Hormones Protect Women From Dementia?

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If you would like to discuss these findings, or other issues surrounding menopause, go to WebMD's Women's Health: Menopause board. continued...

Although the results of the Evista study are discouraging, Richard Mayeaux, MD, says it's premature to conclude that hormone therapy has no role in preserving mental functioning and memory.

"This was an opportunity to try this drug in a large population and it didn't work," says Mayeaux, professor of psychiatry at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York. "There were some modest benefits but not enough for [the scientists] to be convinced that this drug was effective."

But he points out that women in the study may have had even less estrogen than the average woman because they had osteoporosis, which is associated with reductions in estrogen levels.

"So they may have been studying the wrong population of women to begin with," Mayeaux tells WebMD. "The other possibility is that it's the wrong drug."

Researchers will be looking forward to the results of two important studies now underway that are tracking mental functioning of postmenopausal women on estrogen. Those studies are PREPARE -- being conducted by the National Institute on Aging -- and the Women's Health Initiative. Both studies are not scheduled for completion for several years.

Mayeaux says for now, the best advice for women regarding estrogen is not to take it for the sole purpose of trying to prevent dementia or Alzheimer's disease.

"[On] the basis of what we know today, we can't make a recommendation to take it. If you're taking estrogen for some other reason or because your doctor thinks it's a good idea or you have osteoporosis, you may benefit from it in terms of your mental abilities, but I wouldn't feel comfortable, nor should anyone feel comfortable, recommending estrogen for this purpose at this time," says Mayeaux.

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