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Wednesday, 28 February, 2001, 19:33 GMT
Sex hormone could help mental health
Schizophrenia sufferer
Schizophrenia affects about one in a hundred people
The female sex hormone oestrogen could be used to help treat schizophrenics, say scientists.

An Australian psychiatrist has discovered that treating patients with oestrogen can reduce the symptoms of the illness.

Schizophrenia affects about one in a hundred men and women, who suffer a range of symptoms from hallucinations, delusions and jumbled thoughts.

Although antipsychotic drugs like risperidone have been shown to help many people still suffer these.

There's a real interest in finding treatments that augment antipsychotic drugs

John McGrath, of the Queensland Centre for Schizophrenia, Brisbane

But researchers have suspected for some time that oestrogen can help protect against schizophrenia, because women suffer a milder version of the disease than men and it usually strikes them later in life.

Skin patches

Studies in animals also suggest that oestrogen alters the activity of dopamine and serotonin, two brain chemicals which are disrupted in schizophrenia.

Dr Jayashri Kulkarni, a psychiatrist at the Duandenong Psychiatry Research Centre, in Melbourne, treated 12 schizophrenic women with both oestrogen skin patches and risperidone for a month.

In New Scientist magazine she explains that the dose of oestrogen was about twice as high as that used in the contraceptive pill.

She compared her results with a control group of 12 women just receiving risperidone and found those taking oestrogen as well had fewer symptoms.

"Several patients in the oestrogen group went from having terrible voices and hallucinations to that subsiding over a few days.

"That was very striking. With antipsychotic drugs you may get an initial sedative effect, but you are usually waiting for seven days or more for the full effect," she said.

John McGrath, director of the Queensland Centre for Schizophrenia in Brisbane said the research was very hopeful for finding treatment for schizophrenia.

He said: "It's very promising. There's a real interest in finding treatments that augment antipsychotic drugs."

Gary Hogman, head of policy and campaigns at the National Schizophrenia Fellowship, said the research offers hope, but that he would want to see more research.

He said: "Any research that offers hope of a better understanding of schizophrenia and improvements in its treatment is welcome.

"This is a very small study that requires confirmation in the longer term."

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See also:

20 Dec 00 | Medical notes
Schizophrenia: The facts
01 Nov 00 | Health
Schizophrenia test moves closer
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