This is Your Brain on Hormone Therapy: Any Questions?

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Tests on postmenopausal women taking hormone replacement therapy (HRT) suggest that the drugs can make their brains function more like those of younger women.

A study by Durham University found that, when women taking HRT were asked to complete tasks of fine motor coordination, such as sequential finger tapping, the left and right sides of the brain worked more closely together than women of the same age who were not taking the sex hormone drugs.

Researchers say this mirrors the brain activity of younger women who naturally produce the sex hormones in their bodies.

The results contribute to a better understanding of the influence of sex hormones on the brain, although more research is needed to show how this affects the tasks carried out by women in their everyday lives.

Ultimately, researchers hope to find out if sex hormones can make the brain more resistant to damage through stroke or other injuries.

Sixty-two postmenopausal women were split into three groups: one taking hormone therapy with only estrogen, one with a combination of estrogen and synthetic gestagens, and one without HT.  All women were asked to tap buttons with their fingers in certain orders of varying difficulties.  They were asked to complete any given sequence five times on each hand within ten seconds.  An example of a relative complex sequence would be index finger, ring finger, middle finger, small finger.

When both hands perform more equally, it is a sign that the two brain halves are interacting more and this was found to be more pronounced in women taking HT than in those not using HT.”

Previous studies have shown that women tend to use both halves of their brain more equally compared to men who tend to have a more dominant side. The Durham researchers suggest the extent to which this is the case is influenced by the level of sex hormones.

Their studies, conducted over ten years, show variations in brain organization at different times of a woman’s menstrual cycle and under the influence of HRT drugs.

The study findings suggest HRT helps to open the gateway between the left and right side of the brain and encourages interaction between the two halves.

Volume 58, Issue 3, August 2010, Pages 450–456


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