In a new study, post-menopausal women on testosterone therapy showed a significant improvement in verbal learning and memory, offering a promising avenue for research into memory and ageing.
Led by Director of the Women's Health Research Program at Monash University, Professor Susan Davis, and presented at ENDO 2103, the research is the first large, randomised, placebo-controlled investigation into the effects of testosterone on cognitive function in postmenopausal women.
Testosterone has been implicated as being important for brain function in men and these results indicate that it has a role in optimising learning and memory in women.
Dementia, which was estimated to affect more than 35 million people worldwide in 2010, is more common in women than men. There are no effective treatments to prevent memory decline.
In the study, 96 postmenopausal women recruited from the community were randomly allocated to receive a testosterone gel or a visually identical placebo gel to be applied to the skin. Participants underwent a comprehensive series of cognitive tests at the beginning of the study and 26 weeks later.
All women performed in the normal range for their age at the beginning of the trial. There was a statistically significant and clinically meaningful improvement in verbal learning and memory amongst the women using the testosterone gel after 26 weeks.
Professor Davis said the results indicated that testosterone played an important role in women's health.
"Much of the research on testosterone in women to date has focused on sexual function. But testosterone has widespread effects in women, including, it appears, significant favourable effects on verbal learning and memory," Professor Davis said.
"Our findings provide compelling evidence for the conduct of larger clinical studies to further investigate the role of testosterone in cognitive function in women.
Androgen levels did increase in the cohort on testosterone therapy, but on average, remained in the normal female range. No negative side-effects of the therapy were observed.
The study was supported by the Judith Jane Mason & Harold Stannett Williams Memorial Foundation and Biosante Pharm USA, which provided the testosterone gel. Professor Davis is an NHMRC Principal Research Fellow.