Sex hormones, cognition, and mood in healthy postmenopausal women

Susan Bernstein Vardy, Fordham University


Women today live approximately one-third of their lives in a postmenopausal, estrogen deprived state. Given that fluctuations in sex hormones have been linked to changes in cognition and mood, elucidation of the relationship between these variables in postmenopausal women is warranted. The current research examined whether circulating levels of the sex hormones estradiol, estrone, and testosterone could predict scores on tests of verbal and visual memory, attention, and abstraction, as well as scores on measures of depression and anxiety, while controlling for potential confounders. Seventy-four Caucasian postmenopausal women (ages 45–65) who were non-users of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) participated in the current study. During one session, participants had blood drawn for hormone assays and completed neuropsychological testing and mood inventories. Statistical analyses used a principal component analysis to reduce cognitive outcome variables to three principal components representing verbal memory, visual memory, and digit span. Hierarchical regression analyses, controlling for age, education, and mood, were carried out with each of the cognitive components as a dependent variable; separate regression analyses were used to examine scores on Digit Symbol and a test of abstraction. Hierarchical regression analyses were also carried out with scores on each of the mood measures as a dependent variable. Estradiol, estrone, and testosterone served as predictor variables. Results revealed no predictive relationship between the sex hormones and scores on tests of cognition. However, depressive symptomatology was predicted by circulating levels of estradiol, estrone, and testosterone, with higher levels of these hormones associated with lower endorsement of depressive symptoms. This analysis also revealed a trend for estradiol's unique predictive power. Additionally, estradiol levels significantly predicted scores on a measure of trait anxiety. Possible explanations for the null findings regarding cognition include the restricted range of hormone values, cognitive measures chosen, and the use of cognitive components. Additionally, potentially important predictor variables (e.g., other hormones purported to impact cognition and/or sense of well being) were not assayed. Clarification of the relationship between the sex hormones, mood, and cognition requires prospective longitudinal monitoring of these variables in relation to the hormonal changes associated with the climacteric.

Subject Area

Psychobiology|Womens studies

Recommended Citation

Bernstein Vardy, Susan, "Sex hormones, cognition, and mood in healthy postmenopausal women" (2004). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3140894.