Estrogen may protect women from schizophrenia

Last Updated: Thursday, January 21, 2010 - 00:00

Washington: Restoring normal levels of estrogen, a female hormone, likely protects women from schizophrenia, research says.

Many American women are prescribed estrogen to combat negative effects of menopause, such as bone loss and mood swings. Now, a Tel Aviv University (TAU) study suggests that hormone replacement therapy (HRT) might also protect them, and younger women, from schizophrenia as well.

Ina Weiner, psychology professor at TAU and her doctoral student Michael Arad reported that restoring normal levels of estrogen is likely to protect menopausal women vulnerable to schizophrenia.

"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," says Weiner.

Weiner and Arad removed the ovaries of female rats to induce menopause-like low levels of estrogen and showed that this led to schizophrenia-like behaviour.

Researchers then tried to eliminate this abnormal behaviour with an estrogen replacement treatment or with the antipsychotic drug haloperidol.

Estrogen replacement therapy effectively alleviated schizophrenia-like behaviour but haloperidol had no effect on its own. Haloperidol regained its effect in these rats when supplemented by estrogen.

"When the level of estrogen was low, we could see psychotic-like behaviour in the animals. Moreover, the sensitivity to psychosis-inducing drugs went up, while the sensitivity to anti-psychotic drugs went down," Weiner says.

"This is exactly what we observe in women with low estrogen levels," she says. "But we also found that estrogen, all by itself, combats psychosis in both male and female rats."

Furthermore, in low amounts, estrogen increases the effectiveness of anti-psychotic drugs, says a TAU release.

The findings were published in Psychopharmacology.


First Published: Thursday, January 21, 2010 - 00:00

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