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Researchers Unconvinced on Estrogen Therapy for Schizophrenia

Armen Hareyan's picture

Treatment for Schizophrenia

Too little evidence exists to recommend or rule out estrogen as a treatment for schizophrenia in women, a new review of studies finds.

People diagnosed with schizophrenia suffer distorted perceptions of reality and hallucinations. Today, estrogen is strictly an experimental therapy for the psychotic symptoms associated with the mental illness.

Researchers began testing estrogen, a female hormone, as a possible schizophrenia treatment after observing that women with schizophrenia generally fare better than men. Health professionals also noticed that women suffering from schizophrenia seemed more vulnerable to psychotic symptoms during life phases associated with dips in estrogen levels, after childbirth and during menopause. So far those observations have not been corroborated with solid science, said lead review author Dr. Wan Lian Chua.

"We need to see better quality data. There is further data out there, we just don't have access to it yet," said Chua, a psychiatrist working for the Bradford District Care Trust, an organization in National Health Service, United Kingdom.

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The review appears in the most recent issue of The Cochrane Library, a publication of The Cochrane Collaboration, an international organization that evaluates medical research. Systematic reviews draw evidence-based conclusions about medical practice after considering both the content and quality of existing medical trials on a topic.

The outcomes for women who received estrogen therapy were not significantly different from the outcomes for patients who did not, Chua said.

The reviewers found just five studies that met their qualifications for inclusion in the meta-analysis. All of the trials were small, from 12 to 42 women studied, for a total of 122 patients included in the review. Chua said the individual trials were "underpowered," that is, they had too few subjects to observe the difference the researchers were looking for.

Psychiatrist Mary Seeman, a professor at Canada's University of Toronto, said those small sample sizes and a string of other complications make the existing body of estrogen-schizophrenia studies methodologically weak.

Most estrogen-schizophrenia trials have only tested the hormone as adjunctive therapy