Cognitive decline is often one of the first signs of aging. Hormones are substantially tied to declines in cognitive function, particularly those related to memory. Multiple studies have concluded that the risk of diseases associated with cognitive decline, as well as memory loss, are heavily linked to hormonal decline in men and women. Over the last decade, progesterone has been known to be a key player in cognition, but more and more research is uncovering evidence that estrogen and testosterone play significant roles as well, making a case for hormone replacement therapy as an effective treatment for memory loss.
How Hormone Replacement Therapy Works to Promote Cognitive Function
Progesterone, the heralded hormone of cognitive function in recent years, is being successfully used as a therapeutic treatment option following traumatic brain injury due to its ability to prevent neuron loss and cognitive dysfunction. Progesterone is made locally in the brain, highlighting the importance of its role in cognitive function. The effectiveness of progesterone in this regard, is likely due to the role that progesterone plays in the production of myelin sheaths, the insulating material that surrounds nerves and is responsible for the quick and efficient transmission of impulses along nerve cells. Damage to the myelin sheath causes slower impulses and therefore reduced cognitive function.
The brain is highly responsive to androgens as well, such as testosterone. The loss of androgens has been linked to cognitive decline in aging men and women. Clinical observations suggest that androgen replacement positively affects the brain function of older adults, including those who have already been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
Specifically looking at the effect in men, multiple studies have linked higher levels of testosterone to improved cognition in men. A 2006 study, published in the Archives of Neurology, found that testosterone replacement therapy improved quality of life among men suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. In 2008, Harvard researchers found that men with higher levels of testosterone late in life performed better on memory tests than men whose levels were substantially lower. Additionally, in the same study, researchers observed better preservation of tissues in certain areas of the brain among men with higher testosterone levels.
In other laboratory studies, estrogen has been linked with several neuroprotective benefits, such as reduction in beta-amyloid accumulation—a major player in the development of Alzheimer’s disease—and protection of the viability of neurons. Scientists at Tulane University are currently studying estrogen’s influence on memory and cognitive function in postmenopausal women. The studies began early in 2013 and so far have shown, in rats, that estrogen can prevent declines well into old age.
As conclusive research continues to emerge citing the neuroprotective benefits of hormones, many neurobiologists are encouraging hormone therapy as a promising treatment for cognitive decline and degenerative diseases associated with aging. If you are concerned about foggy thinking, memory loss, or other impairments in brain function, speak with a physician who specializes in HRT to learn how hormone replacement therapy works. Advanced testing can help determine if hormone therapy can help you improve brain function.
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