Progesterone and human cognition

Climacteric. 2018 Aug;21(4):333-340. doi: 10.1080/13697137.2018.1476484. Epub 2018 Jun 1.


Progesterone is a neurosteroid and a neuroactive steroid, produced primarily by the corpus luteum and the placenta. In some animal models, progesterone affects cognitive performance, and its potential role in human cognition is especially germane to women. This role can be investigated through associations between peripheral concentrations of progesterone in blood or saliva and neuropsychological test results, through differences in cognitive profiles between women using menopausal hormone therapy with and without a progestogen, and through clinical trials. In naturally cycling reproductive-age women and pregnant women, there is no consistent relation between progesterone levels and cognition. In postmenopausal women within 6 years of menopause and not using hormone therapy, progesterone levels are positively associated with verbal memory and global cognition, but reported associations in older postmenopausal women are null. Some observational studies of postmenopausal women using hormone therapy raise concern of a small deleterious cognitive effect of progestogen (medroxyprogesterone acetate was most often reported in these studies), but this association may due to confounding factors. Small, short-term clinical trials of progesterone show no meaningful effect on cognition. The quality of evidence is low, but overall findings do not reveal consistent, clinically important effects of progesterone on cognitive function in women.

Keywords: Cognition; menopausal hormone therapy; menstrual cycle; postmenopause; pregnancy; progesterone; progestin; progestogen.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cognition / drug effects*
  • Cognition Disorders / drug therapy
  • Estrogen Replacement Therapy / adverse effects*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Medroxyprogesterone Acetate / pharmacology*
  • Memory / drug effects
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Postmenopause
  • Pregnancy
  • Progesterone / pharmacology
  • Progesterone / physiology*
  • Progestins / pharmacology*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic


  • Progestins
  • Progesterone
  • Medroxyprogesterone Acetate