Many of my patients complain of problems remembering things. This can be caused by many things. But you can improve your memory in many ways. Certainly, using your brain regularly, i.e. reading, doing puzzles, learning a new language, etc. does help. As they say, “If you don’t use it, you lose it.” Plus you need to eat the right diet, i.e. a more high-fat diet, and you need to exercise your body regularly.

But another important action you can do to improve brain function is to make sure you have adequate hormone levels in your body. Lack of hormones is particularly a problem when a woman goes through menopause or a man goes through andropause.

You have receptors within your brain cells that are responsive to hormones. The hormones of estradiol and testosterone stimulate brain cells through these receptors to function more efficiently. Hormones are essentially signalers: they are compounds that signal cells to do a certain function. One of these functions is to signal brain cells to function better resulting in better memory. Many people come to me complaining that they have a “foggy” brain and can’t think clearly. Hormones to the rescue.

Many studies have demonstrated the positive effects of estrogen on memory. In one study, improvement in performance on tasks of learning and memory occurred after treatment with estrogen but did not occur when a placebo was used in postmenopausal women. There is, however, a critical period during which estrogen is most effective in reducing cognitive decline and this is when you are just going into menopause. Thus, start taking hormones early! Don’t wait. Plus, the longer you take them the longer you will benefit from them.

Whether you’re perimenopausal, menopausal, or andropausal, if you are having memory and learning problems, hormone therapy with estrogen and/or testosterone may help. In one study, restoring women’s low estrogen levels to more normal or optimal levels improved their verbal memory and learning ability. Overall, multiple studies have confirmed the benefit of hormones in cognitive function. In other words, you think more clearly, have better memory, and you learn new things better.

Lack of testosterone also affects memory and cognition. Testosterone replacement has been shown to improve memory in males and may contribute to improving memory in women too.  There is definitely a link between testosterone therapy and improvement of cognition, and giving testosterone may help preserve memory and cognition. In addition, some testosterone is converted to estrogen so you receive the mental improving benefits of both.

But taking hormones before these symptoms of memory lapse is vital. Remember the old saying, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pounds of cure.” This is very true for hormone therapy because if you want maximal benefits, start as soon as you go through menopause in a woman, or andropause in a man. Plus, that’s the time you may have other symptoms of these “pauses,” which also can be treated with these hormones to give you a better quality of life in many other ways (e.g. improved libido and energy).

This preventive care idea is markedly important when it comes to trying to prevent Alzheimer’s disease. There has been much research supporting the idea that hormones, particularly estrogen, can reduce the risk of you developing Alzheimer’s disease (AD). However, they do this only in a preventive mode: you have to take them for over 10 years to see this significant benefit for AD risk reduction. Some studies have suggested a 30% to 50% decrease in the risk of developing AD with consistent hormone usage.

But you can’t wait until you get AD; they don’t work that way. Once you get AD, there is really not much you can do about it. Your best option is to be proactive and do things to prevent AD. Other actions that can reduce your risk are staying active and eating well. Exercising 20 to 30 minutes a day and eating right are other actions you can do to reduce your risks of developing AD.

In conclusion, embracing hormone therapy is very important and something most people can do. It can help clear up that “foggy” brain problem, give clarity to your thoughts and improve memory. Taken over a long time it can even decrease your risks of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Everyone should embrace their benefits if they can.

Duka T, Tasker R, McGowan JF 2000 The effects of 3-week estrogen hormone replacement on cognition in elderly healthy females. Psychopharmacology 149:129–139.

Rivera EM, Hormones and Memory, Conference on “Time and Memory” of the International Society for the Study of Time, Cambridge Univ., U.I. July 2004.

Sherwin BB, Phillips S“1990Estrogen and cognitive functioning in surgically menopausal women.” Ann NY Acad Sci592:474–475

Phillips SM, Sherwin BB1992Effects on estrogen on memory function in surgically menopausal women. Psych neuroendocrinology17:485–495

Op cit. Sherwin,

Tan RS, Pu SJ. The andropause and memory loss: is there a link between androgen decline and dementia in the aging male? Asian J Androl  2001 Sep; 3: 169-174.