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Better oral reading and short-term memory in midlife, postmenopausal women taking estrogen

Shaywitz, Sally E. MD1; Naftolin, Frederick MD, DPhil2; Zelterman, Daniel PhD3; Marchione, Karen E. MA1; Holahan, John M. PhD1; Palter, Steven F. MD2; Shaywitz, Bennett A. MD1,4

doi: 10.1097/01.GME.0000060241.02837.29

Objective Considerable controversy surrounds the issue of whether estrogen influences cognitive function in postmenopausal women, and the results are far from consistent. For the most part, the cognitive processes studied have involved memory; to our knowledge, no previous studies have specifically examined the effects of estrogen on women's reading ability.

Design To investigate reading and short-term memory in postmenopausal women treated with conjugated equine estrogens, we carried out a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of 21 days in 60 midlife, postmenopausal women aged 32.8 to 64.9 years (mean 51.2 years, SD 5.0 years). Women were evaluated for oral reading measured by Gray Oral Reading Tests (third edition) and for verbal memory using immediate and delayed recall on the Logical Memory and Paired Associate Learning subtests of the Wechsler Memory Scale and by a Sentence Span task.

Results The group receiving daily treatment with conjugated equine estrogens (Premarin, 1.25 mg; Wyeth-Ayerst Labs, Philadelphia, PA, USA) showed better oral reading and verbal memory performance than the placebo group.

Conclusion Estrogen may have positive effects on oral reading and verbal memory in midlife, postmenopausal women.

From the 1Department of Pediatrics, 2Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, 3Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, and 4Department of Neurology, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT.

Received August 23, 2002; revised and accepted January 23, 2003.

This work was supported by grants from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (PO1 HD 21888 and P50 HD25802), from the National Cancer Institute (P30 CA 16359), and by an award from the Donaghue Women's Health Investigator Program.

Address correspondence to: Sally E. Shaywitz, MD, Department of Pediatrics, Yale University School of Medicine, PO Box 333, New Haven, CT 06510-8064. E-mail:

©2003The North American Menopause Society