Postmenopausal women who were treated with a testosterone gel showed better improvement in verbal learning and memory compared to women who received a placebo, according to a new study.
“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 principal investigator Susan Davis, M.B.B.S., Ph.D., of Monash University in Melbourne, Australia.
“Our study has confirmed our similar findings from two smaller studies in postmenopausal women and suggests that testosterone therapy may protect women against cognitive decline after menopause.”
Menopause has been linked with memory decline because of a decrease in levels of the hormone estrogen.
Yet testosterone also is an important hormone in women because it has a role in sexual desire, bone density and energy while improving mood. In men, studies have shown that testosterone replacement has favorable effects on brain function, according to the researcher.
In this new study, the Australian researchers randomly assigned 92 healthy postmenopausal women who were not receiving estrogen therapy to receive one of two treatments for 26 weeks.
The treatments were a testosterone gel applied daily to the upper arm, or a placebo, an identical-appearing gel containing none of the medication. Neither the women nor the investigators were aware of which gel the women received.
Before treatment and at 12 and 26 weeks of treatment, the women underwent testing of their cognitive function using a computer-based battery of tests designed for people with normal brain function (CogState).
Ninety women completed the study. The researchers noted they found no cognitive differences between the groups before the start of treatment.
After 26 weeks, the women who received testosterone therapy had a statistically significant improvement in verbal learning and memory, according to Davis.
The average score for the testosterone-treated group on a test of how well they recalled words from a list was 1.6 points greater than the placebo group. No differences between the groups were evident for any other cognitive test.
Women receiving testosterone therapy reported no major side effects related to the gel. Their testosterone levels increased with treatment but remained in the normal female range, the researcher noted.
Although further study is needed in more women, Davis said the results are important.
“There is no effective treatment to date to prevent memory decline in women, who are at higher risk of dementia than men,” she said.
Source: The Endocrine Society