Estrogen has no effect in the treatment of postmenopausal women with Alzheimer’s disease, and short-term use of the hormone probably doesn’t protect other mental functions.
In the third study of its kind this year, Taiwanese researchers gave estrogen to 25 postmenopausal women with mild or moderate symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. After 12 weeks, the patients scored no better on tests of attention, concentration, memory and other mental abilities, than did 25 patients taking the placebo (inactive pill).
Although these results are disappointing, scientists still plan to carry on investigating the use of estrogen in treatment or prevention of Alzheimer’s. Evidence does show that estrogen combats destructive cellular processes known to play key roles in the onset and development of the disease.
Some neurologists question whether certain factors in the study represent the best method to test estrogen. A longer period of a year or more may be required for the studies to adequately measure the results. In addition, the mental function tests involved may not be sensitive enough to detect subtle changes.
In the future, estrogen will be tested with other drugs using various dosages and employing other ways of taking it, such as a skin patch. However, ongoing, large-scale studies will not publish their results for several years. Until then, the jury remains out on estrogen’s protective benefits for postmenopausal women.