Hormone therapy taken to relieve menopausal symptoms including hot flashes, fatigue, insomnia, may also play a beneficial role in improving memory and thinking skills, a study suggests.

Hormone therapy refers to either estrogen or combination estrogen or progesterone treatment.

The study led by researchers from the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, US, showed that women who took oestradiol — an oestrogen steroid hormone — via skin patches maintained brain volume in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex — an area of the brain that assists with memory, thinking, planning and reasoning, for over the seven years of the study.

Women who maintained volume in this area of the brain were also more likely to have a lower amount of the amyloid plaque deposits that are related to memory loss and Alzheimer’s disease.

This suggests that estradiol therapy may have long-term effects on the brain.

“We found that one form of menopausal hormone therapy taken soon after menopause may preserve brain structure in the portion of the brain responsible for memory and thinking skills,” said Kejal Kantarci from the Mayo Clinic.

“It may also reduce the development of amyloid plaques that can build up and lead to memory loss,” Kantarci said.

For the study, published in journal Neurology, the team included nearly 100 healthy women with an average age of 53 who were between five months to three years past menopause and took conjugated equine estrogen in pill form, or received estradiol via skin patches and others who received a placebo of either the pills or patches.

Researchers also found that for those taking estrogen pills, there were greater structural changes in the brain during therapy, but those changes stopped when participants stopped taking the pills.

However, “more research is needed to determine the biological reasons behind brain changes during menopausal hormone therapy,” Kantarci said.