Estrogen and cognitive functioning in women

Endocr Rev. 2003 Apr;24(2):133-51. doi: 10.1210/er.2001-0016.


Research in basic neuroscience has provided biological plausibility for the hypothesis that estrogen replacement therapy (ERT) would protect against cognitive aging in healthy women. The weight of the evidence from randomized controlled trials of estrogen and cognition in women shows that this hormone preferentially protects verbal memory in postmenopausal women, whereas findings from observational studies are less consistent and show a more diffuse effect of estrogen on a range of cognitive functions. There is fairly consistent evidence from epidemiological studies that ERT significantly reduces the risk of Alzheimer's disease (AD) in women. On the other hand, findings from controlled treatment trials of women diagnosed with probable AD failed to show that physiological doses of ERT ameliorate existing deficits in cognitive functioning and/or prevent further deterioration in memory that inevitably occurs in these women over time. Finally, an accumulating body of evidence is beginning to suggest that the immediate postmenopausal period may constitute a critical window for treatment with ERT that maximizes its potential to protect against cognitive decline with aging and/or to reduce the risk of AD.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Alzheimer Disease / physiopathology*
  • Central Nervous System / physiology
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Estrogens / physiology*
  • Female
  • Hormone Replacement Therapy
  • Humans
  • Menstrual Cycle / physiology
  • Middle Aged
  • Postmenopause / physiology*
  • Sex Characteristics


  • Estrogens