Chalk one up for the controversial hormone treatment: Short-term estrogen treatments increase the brain's gray matter, researchers reported recently at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience.
The findings were based on a study of 24 post-menopausal women, half of whom were given a daily dose of estrogen for three months. Subsequent magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans revealed a greater volume of gray matter in the brain's cortex, where attention, decision-making, and memory are centered.
"We are seeing actual differences in gray matter density," said Paul Newhouse, director of Vanderbilt University's Center for Cognitive Medicine.
"It's going out on a limb, but this change in gray matter density might be important in helping to preserve cognitive function."
The findings also indicate that only a short-term dose of estrogen is needed to improve memory and mental functioning during menopause, said researchers from Vanderbilt University and the University of Vermont. This is important because long-term use of estrogen therapy is associated with adverse side effects such as an increased risk of breast and uterine cancers.