OHSU doctors find alternative to female hormone replacement

A collaborative team of researchers from Portland and San Francisco has discovered a new compound that can be used to alleviate the symptoms of menopause. The treatment, called STX, has the same benefits as more commonly used therapies but has fewer side effects.

Menopause is the time in a woman’s life when her reproductive organs start shutting down, causing a lack of estrogen. Common symptoms include hot flashes, irritability and sleeplessness. The most common treatment is estrogen replacement, which involves injecting a compound that mimics the female hormone into the body.

The artificial hormone stimulates the hypothalamus, a thumb-sized region underneath the brain that controls body functions such as stress responses, body temperature, energy and the reproductive system. Estrogen replacement mimics the body’s natural production of the hormone and helps regulate bodily functions.

Women who do not undergo hormone replacement therapy have been shown to have more memory loss and susceptibility to Alzheimer’s disease. In addition, animal tests have shown that increased estrogen levels help reduce the negative effects of strokes and osteoporosis so there are definite benefits to regulating the body’s hormones. However, artificial estrogen drugs also stimulate rapid cell growth in the uterus and breasts, which increases the risk of developing cancer.

Scientists from Oregon Health & Sciences University (OHSU) and the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) developed the new treatment as part of their research into selective estrogen receptor modulators, or SERMs. These compounds selectively stimulate different parts of the body to mimic the effects of naturally occurring estrogen.

STX is unique in that it sends signals to specific bodily systems, such as those that control eating and drinking, and tells them to speed up without increasing cell growth, which causes cancer. STX is structurally different and more potent than existing hormone-replacement drugs.

Although menopause affects women in their 40’s and 50’s, it’s never too early to start making lifestyle choices that will make the transition easier. Staying fit, eating right and getting enough calcium and other vitamins can increase one’s general health as well as help alleviate some of the symptoms of menopause.