Testosterone therapy doesn’t just benefit men. New research shows postmenopausal women receiving treatment with testosterone gel had notable improvements in verbal learning and memory, compared with women who received an inactive placebo.
The findings, presented at the Endocrine Society's 95th annual meeting in San Francisco this week, are among the first to suggest testosterone therapy may provide a hedge against age-related mental declines.
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"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 lead researcher Susan Davis, M.D., 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."
Menopause often coincides with memory loss because of a decrease in levels of the protective hormone estrogen. But studies have shown that testosterone replacement has favorable effects on brain function.
For the new research, Davis and her colleagues assigned 92 healthy postmenopausal women, ages 55 to 65, 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. Neither the study participants nor the investigators were aware of which gel the women received.
Before treatment, the women underwent comprehensive testing of their mental skills using a computer-based battery of tests, which found no differences between groups.
After 26 weeks, the women who received testosterone therapy had a statistically significant improvement in verbal learning and memory — that is, how well they recalled words from a list, Davis reported. The average test score for the testosterone-treated group was 1.6 points greater than that of the placebo group.
Women receiving testosterone therapy reported no major side effects related to the gel.
"There is no effective treatment to date to prevent memory decline in women, who are higher risk of dementia than men," Davis said, noting no testosterone-only product has yet received U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval for use in women.
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BioSante, which provided the study drug and partial funding for this study, had no control over study design or data analysis, Davis said.
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