Undergoing a type of hormone replacement therapy - used to treat menopause symptoms - may help working memory and reduce stress levels in women, a study claims.
"Our study suggests that oestrogen treatment after menopause protects the memory that is needed for short-term cognitive tasks from the effects of stress," said Alexandra Ycaza Herrera from University of Southern California in the US.
The study, published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, found that women taking oestrogen-only therapy had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol and performed better on tests of "working memory" following exposure to stress compared to women taking a placebo.
Working memory allows the brain to keep information immediately available for processing, such as when a shopper uses a mental grocery list to pick up items, researchers said
Studies have documented that stress can impair working memory, they said.
Researchers recruited 42 women with an average age of 66 years to measure the effect of oestrogen therapy on working memory under stress.
Half of the postmenopausal women had been on estradiol, a type of oestrogen therapy, for about five years, while the others had received a placebo.
To induce a stress response during one visit, researchers asked participants to submerge their hand in ice water for about three minutes.
For the control condition conducted during the other visit, the participants submerged their hand in warm water.
Before and after each visit, researchers collected saliva to measure the womens levels of cortisol, oestrogen, and progesterone.
The team also ran a test of working memory called a "sentence span task," in which the women were each given a series and then asked whether each sentence made sense. Participants were asked to recall the last word of each one.
Researchers noted that all women performed equally well on the sentence span task after the warm water condition. However, after the ice bath, women taking the placebo experienced a spike in cortisol levels.
They also demonstrated a decrease in working memory function. By contrast, women receiving oestrogen therapy had a smaller increase in cortisol and showed no decrease in working memory function, researchers said.
"Hormone replacement therapy may not be right for every woman, but women need to be able to have the conversation with their doctors," said Herrera....