Do you suffer from loss of concentration, confusion or lapses in memory?
What you may have attributed to old age may actually be the result of a hormone imbalance.
We’ve spent plenty of time discussing testosterone in our previous blogs, but what about estrogen? Estrogen is vital to a women’s health and plays a crucial role in sustaining optimal health. Men even produce estrogen (sorry to break it to you guys), but with less importance and at much lower levels. Today we will take a closer look at the benefits of estrogen and hormone replacement in women.
Estrogen has received some bad publicity through the years. However, estrogen does have many positive effects, but it also depends on the type of estrogen.
There are three types of estrogen:
- Estrone (E1)
- Estradiol (E2)
- Estriol (E3)
Each form of estrogen has a specific role. For example, estrone is more prevalent in older women; higher amounts of estriol are present in pregnant women, while estradiol is more common in healthy young females. For the purposes of this article, we will be referring to estradiol when we referencing estrogen.
Estrogen has several protective factors and has been found to lower the risk of colorectal cancer, cataracts and macular degeneration while decreasing painful intercourse and stress incontinence. There are even studies that point to estrogen being anti-inflammatory. Estrogen also supports mood, cognition, bone density, sleep and temperature regulation.
Although there has been conflicting viewpoints on the level of impact estrogen has on cognitive function; recent studies appear to indicate several positive impacts. In fact, some studies report that estrogen hormone replacement, if taken in early menopause, can protect women from Alzheimer’s.
Much of this may be linked to estrogen’s role in our brain’s chemistry. We often hear about serotonin when it comes to depression and anxiety. Serotonin is an inhibitory neurotransmitter, meaning that it promotes a calming effect and offers a sense of well-being. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI’s) are often prescribed to patients reporting depression and/or anxiety. In fact, many women who present with hormonal complaints are referred to a psychiatrist for SSRI’s and other psychotropic medication. However, in these instances, the symptoms are being treated instead of the cause.
In many cases, the culprit is an estrogen imbalance. When estrogen increases, so do serotonin receptors. Increased serotonin results in a sense of well-being and improved cognitive function. Consequently, low estrogen levels can explain cravings for carbohydrates and sugars during PMS. Carbohydrates and sugars increase serotonin levels. Thus, the bodies craving is a natural reaction to a hormone imbalance.
Estrogen is also tied to Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOI’s). MAOI’s are considered “first generation” antidepressants and were prescribed prior to the discovery of SSRI’s. Their function on the brains chemistry is also much different from the SSRI’s. They help break down excitatory neurons such as epinephrine and norepinephrine; and it just so happens that estrogen increases MAOI levels. Therefore, it should be no surprise that the decrease in estrogen during menopause and PMS cause irritability, mood swings, difficulty concentrating and poor cognitive function. So why take a synthetic medication such as an SSRI when you can take a natural hormone replacement?
Estrogen also helps cognition by improving communication between neurons in the hippocampus. The hippocampus is imperative to storing our short-term and long-term memories. Additionally, estrogen protects cells from free radicals and excitotoxin damage. Free radicals and excitotxins cause damage to nerve cells which leads to neurological diseases.
Now this is not to say that estrogen is the cure-all and only cause for Alzheimer’s or memory loss. There are many factors that play a role in cognitive deterioration. With that said, more and more studies are pointing to the positive, protective role of estrogen in memory and cognition.
To find out more information about estrogen and hormone replacement check out the links in this article, click on the articles below, and contact Vitali-T Medical Clinics.
Carpenter, S. Dores Estrogen Protect Memory. Monitor on Psychology. 2001, 32(1), 52.
Jaffe, H, Cohen LS. Estrogen, Serotonin and Mood Disturbances: Where is the Therapeutic Bridge. Biological Psychiatry. 1998, 44(9),798-811.
Luine VN, Khylchevskaya RI, McEwen BS. Effect of gonadal steroids on activities of monoamine oxidase and choline acetylase in rat brain. Brain Res. 1975, 86, 293–306.
McEwen BS. Clinical review 108: The molecular and neuroanatomical basis for estrogen effects in the central nervous system. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. 1999, 84, 1790.
McEwen BS. Estrogen action throughout the brain. Recent Prog Horm Res. 2002, 57, 357–384.
Schmitt, JA et al. Serotonin and Human Cognitive Performance. Current Pharmaceutical Design. 2006, 12(20), 2473-2486.
Sherwin, BB. Estrogen and Cognitive Functioning in Women. Endocrine Reviews. 2003, 24(2), 133-151.
Sherwin, BB. Estrogen and Cognitive Aging in Women, Neuroscience. 2006, 138, 1021-1026.
Wickelgren, I. Estrogen Stakes Claim to Cognition. Science. 1997, 276, 675-678
Young, SN. Now to Increase Serotonin in the human brain without drugs. Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience. 2007, 32(6), 394-399