Over the past few years the use of estrogen to treat post menopausal women has plunged in popularity. This occurred after the release of several major studies showing that instead of helping older women avoid arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) and heart attacks the opposite was true. Recent studies showed that women taking estrogen after menopause were more likely to have heart attacks. Additionally, there has been a persistent concern that estrogen use is tied to increased risk of certain cancers, particularly breast and uterine cancer.
For most women, this knowledge was sufficiently convincing for them to stop using estrogen or to decide not to start.
When it comes to a hormone as complex in its action as estrogen there is a lot more to this story, however. A recently published study in the journal Neurology from the Mayo Clinic shows that women who undergo premature menopause due to surgical removal of one or both ovaries and who don’t receive estrogen replacement, have a significantly higher risk of developing memory loss, dementia (senility) and Parkinson’s Disease in later years. The younger the woman at the time of menopause the greater the risk of later brain dysfunction.
The benefit of estrogen use on brain function seems to end around the age of 50 years. The study did not address women who have spontaneous menopause before the age of 50. Is it possible that this group of women need to take estrogen to reduce the risk of developing brain damage as they grow older?
I am unaware of any study which answers this question. For any woman who wants to know if they should take estrogen, it is advised they confer with their own physician since the controversy and personal issues are so complex.
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