In the last few years, there have been many research studies designed to understand how the menopause transition affects mood, memory , and thermal regulation. In fact an entire day of lectures was devoted to these issues at the October 2009 North American Menopause Society meeting in San Diego. Below are some of the findings discussed at the conference.
1). Depression is 14 times more likely to occur around menopause compared to during the 31 years before the menopause transition.
2).Like postpartum depression, menopausal depression is likely to occur because of hormonal fluctuations. There seems to be a correlation between depression, sleep disturbances and hot flashes for a significant number of menopausal women .
3).In both animal studies and human studies there seems to be strong evidence that depression, hot flashes and sleep disturbances are related to hormonal fluctuations. There seems to be an overlap for many women. Scientists are finding that by treating depression with SSRI( antidepressants) they can also help sleep disturbances and hot flashes.
4). A study conducted at the University of Vermont College of Medicine, found that Estrogen interacts with brain’s neurotransmitter systems necessary for memory and mood control. Age related hormonal changes seem to affect certain parts of the brain. In fact as we age it seems that we begin to use more of our frontal cortex versus the middle part of the brain.
5). Scientists have shown that low doses of estrogen seem to improve memory in younger postmenopausal women(50-60), but has little effect in older menopausal women(over 70). Scientists do warn that memory loss is a side effect of menopause and that symptom should not specifically be treated with hormone replacement therapy, however they did notice that cognitive functions improved when HRT was used to treat other menopausal symptoms like vaginal dryness and hot flashes. Using HRT to help memory might be a possibility in the future, however for now scientists say more research is required to understand the relation between hormones and memory.
Although there was no conclusive evidence presented past studies suggest that combining a low dose transdermal patch with a low dose antidepressant may help diminish quite a few age of the most common menopausal symptom including hot flashes, sleep disturbances and some memory issues. Dose and timing are very important and it seems that the main benefit occurs in early menopause not with older post menopausal women.