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Testosterone boosts women's mental skills

Teresa Tanoos's picture
Postmenopausal women who took testosterone boosted mental skills

There’s new hope for postmenopausal women suffering from a decline in memory.

Researchers announced results of a new study Monday that shows postmenopausal women had better improvement in verbal learning and memory after receiving treatment with testosterone gel, compared to those who received a placebo.

The findings were presented June 17 at The Endocrine Society's 95th Annual Meeting in San Francisco.

"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," said principal investigator Susan Davis, MBBS (MD), PhD, of Monash University, Melbourne, Australia.

"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," she added.

Menopause has been associated with memory lapses due to a decrease in estrogen. However, testosterone is another important hormone that plays a role in sexual desire, bone density and energy while improving mood. Studies in men have demonstrated that testosterone replacement boosts brain function and has been promoted for boosting sexual desire as well.

The researchers set out to see if testosterone could similarly benefit women. For the study, they randomly assigned 92 healthy postmenopausal women between the ages of 55 to 65 who were not receiving estrogen therapy.

The women then received one of two treatments for 26 weeks: 1) a testosterone gel (LibiGel, BioSante Pharmaceuticals) applied daily to the upper arm; or 2) a placebo that appeared identical to the gel, but containing none of the medication.

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Neither the study participants nor the investigators were aware of which gel the women received.

Before treatment – as well as at 12 and 26 weeks of treatment – each woman underwent comprehensive testing of their mental skills using a computer-based battery of tests designed for people with normal brain function.

The researchers found no cognitive differences between groups before they started taking either the testosterone gel or placebo, and 90 women completed the study.

After 26 weeks, the women who received testosterone therapy had a statistically significant and clinically meaningful improvement in both verbal learning and memory, according to Davis. The average test score for the testosterone-treated group was 1.6 points greater than that of the placebo group.

No major side effects related to the gel were reported by the women receiving testosterone therapy. Their testosterone levels increased with treatment but remained in the normal range for females.

While additional study is needed with more women, Davis stressed the importance of the results.

"There is no effective treatment to date to prevent memory decline in women, who are higher risk of dementia than men," she said.

Meanwhile, no testosterone-only product has yet received approval from the Food and Drug Administration for use in women.

SOURCE: Endocrine Society (June 17, 2013). “Testosterone improves verbal learning and memory in postmenopausal women”.