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Testosterone May Give Postmenopausal Women a Cognitive Boost

Update Date: Jun 18, 2013 03:43 PM EDT

Testosterone may help improve cognition in postmenopausal women, a new study suggests.

A new study reveals postmenopausal women showed significant improvement in verbal learning and memory after receiving treatment with testosterone gel, compared with women who received a placebo gel.

Menopause is associated with memory decline because of a decrease in levels of the protective hormone estrogen. However, researchers said that testosterone is also an important hormone in women because it has a role in sexual desire, bone density and energy while improving mood.  Previous studies on men suggest that testosterone therapy can also improve brain function.

In the latest double-blind study, Australian researchers randomly assigned 92 healthy postmenopausal women, ages 55 to 65, who were not receiving estrogen therapy to receive one of two treatments for 26 weeks.  The treatments were a testosterone gel (LibiGel, BioSante Pharmaceuticals) applied daily to the upper arm, or a placebo, an identical-appearing gel containing none of the medication.

The women underwent a variety of tests designed to evaluate cognitive function before treatment and at 12 and 26 weeks of treatment.

Researchers found no cognitive differences between groups before the start of treatment. However, those who received testosterone therapy performed an average of 1.57 points better on the International Shopping List Task (a test that measures verbal leaning and memory) than the placebo group.

Researchers said the findings revealed that women who received testosterone therapy had a statistically significant and clinically meaningful improvement in verbal learning and memory.

"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," lead investigator Dr. Susan Davis, of Monash University, Melbourne, Australia, said in a news release. "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."

Researchers said that none of the women in the study reported major side effects related to the gel.  Women in the study had increased testosterone levels with treatment but remained in the normal female range.

Davis said the latest finding is important because there is still no effective treatment to prevent memory decline in women, who have a higher risk of developing dementia than men.

The findings were presented this week at The Endocrine Society's 95th Annual Meeting in San Francisco.

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