Estrogen and memory in women: how can we reconcile the findings?

Horm Behav. 2005 Mar;47(3):371-5. doi: 10.1016/j.yhbeh.2004.12.002.


Although several randomized controlled trials (RCTS) of surgically menopausal women have provided evidence that estrogen protects aspects of memory, many cross-sectional and longitudinal studies, including those from the RCT, the Women's Health Initiative Memory Study (WHIMS), have reported inconsistent information with regard to the relationship between estrogen and aspects of cognitive function. Although numerous reasons could be offered to explain these discrepancies in research findings, recent evidence from rodent, nonhuman primate, and human studies consistently suggests that one possibility may be critical to our understanding of the estrogenic effect on memory. Results of these animal and human studies indicate that the initiation of estrogen treatment at the time of menopause, or soon after ovariectomy (OVX), provides a window of opportunity for the preservation of memory in females whereas the administration of the hormone following a considerable delay in time after OVX has little or no beneficial effect on cognition. Considering the evidence that, in several organ systems, heightened disease risks accrue to a longer duration of estrogen deprivation in women, it would seem important to determine whether this is also true for brain structure and function in order to protect the quality of life for the considerable number of women who undergo a surgical menopause before their natural menopause had occurred.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Estrogens / administration & dosage*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hysterectomy
  • Memory / drug effects*
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Neuroprotective Agents / administration & dosage*
  • Premenopause
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic


  • Estrogens
  • Neuroprotective Agents