UW-Madison researchers advance understanding for hormone therapies

After analyzing results from multiple clinical trials on the effects of hormone therapies, a team of UW-Madison researchers recently set the record straight on how these therapies affect women.

About 15 years ago, a study concluded that women using hormones to treat symptoms of menopause were at a higher risk for developing dementia and mild cognitive impairment.

Those results from the Women’s Health Initiative Memory Study have now been challenged by Carey Gleason, a scientist and clinician at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health. She’s also the co-leader of the Minority Recruitment Satellite Program at the Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center.

Gleason and her team reviewed results of clinical trials where the cognitive and mood-related effects of hormone therapies were investigated. They also re-analyzed data on diabetic women from the original WHIMS study.

In doing so, the scientists found that hormone therapy is not associated with cognitive problems if therapy begins around the age of menopause in healthy women.

Gleason presented this conclusion at the recent Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Chicago.

The new research looked at several important factors, like timing of hormone use and health of the women being studied.

For example, all women in the WHIMS study were 65 or older. According to a release from UW-Madison, most women considering hormone therapy will begin medication when menopause actually begins — usually near age 51.

And most women in WHIMS were at high risk for cardiovascular and metabolic diseases. More than 30 percent of women in that 15-year-old study were morbidly obese, by body mass index.

“Recent findings have added to our understanding of the complex effects of hormones on the brain,” Gleason said. “Still, questions remain.”

She says Dr. Kejal Kantarci from Mayo Clinic is launching a study in partnership with UW-Madison to follow up on one of the studies examined in this recent review.

“In the KEEPS-Continuation study we will examine the long-term effects of menopausal hormone therapy, re-evaluating the women 12 years after they were enrolled in the original KEEPS,“ Gleason said.

She adds: “These data are sorely needed to guide women through the menopausal transition and to help them make personalized informed decisions about management of their menopausal symptoms and prevention of future health problems.”

–By Alex Moe