Background: Menopausal hormone therapy (MHT) reportedly increases the risk of cognitive decline in women over age 65 y. It is unknown whether similar risks exist for recently postmenopausal women, and whether MHT affects mood in younger women. The ancillary Cognitive and Affective Study (KEEPS-Cog) of the Kronos Early Estrogen Prevention Study (KEEPS) examined the effects of up to 4 y of MHT on cognition and mood in recently postmenopausal women.
Methods and findings: KEEPS, a randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled clinical trial, was conducted at nine US academic centers. Of the 727 women enrolled in KEEPS, 693 (95.3%) participated in the ancillary KEEPS-Cog, with 220 women randomized to receive 4 y of 0.45 mg/d oral conjugated equine estrogens (o-CEE) plus 200 mg/d micronized progesterone (m-P) for the first 12 d of each month, 211 women randomized to receive 50 μg/d transdermal estradiol (t-E2) plus 200 mg/d m-P for the first 12 d of each month, and 262 women randomized to receive placebo pills and patches. Primary outcomes included the Modified Mini-Mental State examination; four cognitive factors: verbal learning/memory, auditory attention/working memory, visual attention/executive function, and speeded language/mental flexibility; and a mood measure, the Profile of Mood States (POMS). MHT effects were analyzed using linear mixed-effects (LME) models, which make full use of all available data from each participant, including those with missing data. Data from those with and without full data were compared to assess for potential biases resulting from missing observations. For statistically significant results, we calculated effect sizes (ESs) to evaluate the magnitude of changes. On average, participants were 52.6 y old, and 1.4 y past their last menstrual period. By month 48, 169 (24.4%) and 158 (22.8%) of the 693 women who consented for ancillary KEEPS-Cog were lost to follow-up for cognitive assessment (3MS and cognitive factors) and mood evaluations (POMS), respectively. However, because LME models make full use all available data, including data from women with missing data, 95.5% of participants were included in the final analysis (n = 662 in cognitive analyses, and n = 661 in mood analyses). To be included in analyses, women must have provided baseline data, and data from at least one post-baseline visit. The mean length of follow-up was 2.85 y (standard deviation [SD] = 0.49) for cognitive outcomes and 2.76 (SD = 0.57) for mood outcomes. No treatment-related benefits were found on cognitive outcomes. For mood, model estimates indicated that women treated with o-CEE showed improvements in depression and anxiety symptoms over the 48 mo of treatment, compared to women on placebo. The model estimate for the depression subscale was -5.36 × 10(-2) (95% CI, -8.27 × 10(-2) to -2.44 × 10(-2); ES = 0.49, p < 0.001) and for the anxiety subscale was -3.01 × 10(-2) (95% CI, -5.09 × 10(-2) to -9.34 × 10(-3); ES = 0.26, p < 0.001). Mood outcomes for women randomized to t-E2 were similar to those for women on placebo. Importantly, the KEEPS-Cog results cannot be extrapolated to treatment longer than 4 y.
Conclusions: The KEEPS-Cog findings suggest that for recently postmenopausal women, MHT did not alter cognition as hypothesized. However, beneficial mood effects with small to medium ESs were noted with 4 y of o-CEE, but not with 4 y of t-E2. The generalizability of these findings is limited to recently postmenopausal women with low cardiovascular risk profiles.