Estrogen therapy for schizophrenia?

June 21, 2010 by  

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Hormones can affect our moods. Women can attest to this and some men learn to recognize the signs. When I am feeling out of sorts, my husband would ask: “are you ill or is it just the hormones?”

Hormone replacement therapy is a common strategy in managing postmenopausal symptoms in women, symptoms that include hot flashes and mood swings

A recent study by the researchers at the Tel Aviv University reports that hormone replacement therapy particular estrogen may also have protective affects against a more serious problem – schizophrenia.

The researchers have demonstrated this in lab rats wherein removal of the ovaries induced not only menopausal symptoms but also development of psychotic symptoms. When the animals were given estrogen replacement, the psychotic symptoms disappeared. Estrogen was replacement was even more effective than the anti-psychotic agent haloperidol in this animal experiment.

According to Prof. Ina Weiner of Tel Aviv University’s Department of Psychology

“We’ve known for some time that when the level of estrogen is low, vulnerability to psychotic symptoms increases and anti-psychotic drugs are less likely to work. Now, our pre-clinical findings show why this might be happening.”

The link between low estrogen levels and psychotic symptoms are not nothing new. A woman’s hormonal levels are regulated by her menstrual cycle, yet still fluctuate during her lifetime. There are times when drastic changes bring about psychological problems, such as in cases of postpartum depression or postmenopausal symptoms.

The results indicate a potential for estrogen supplement as a stand-alone treatment or adjunct therapy to convention treatment of schizophrenia.

“Antipsychotic drugs are less effective during low periods of estrogen in the body, after birth and in menopause. Our research links schizophrenia and its treatment to estrogen levels. Men seem less likely to begin schizophrenia after their 40s, which also suggests that estrogen is the culprit.”

However, estrogen replacement therapy has been questioned in recent years due to its association with increased risk for cervical cancer and heart attacks. The risks and benefits of estrogen replacement therapy should therefore be weighed seriously before this “hormonal treatment can be used for a behavioural condition.”

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