Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Estrogen and memory function

A study conducted at the University of Southern California demonstrated that estrogen promotes the growth of those essential neurons in the brain's hippocampus that are critical to memory function. Scientists there created a hippocampal campus in a petri dish, inducing these cells from the memory center to set up housekeeping in the USC lab. They then squirted conjugated equine estrogens (CEEs or Premarin) on the nerve cell colonies and watched the results under a videomicroscope.

The cells literally bristled with excitement. The addition of estrogen juice significantly increased the number of dendrites or outgrowths of the cell membranes which are known to be cellular markers of memory formation. Dendrites hook-up with other neurons to form new connections, a process that promotes brain 'plasticity' or the ability to learn new material and make new associations. In other words, the same cellular events that occur in the hippocampus of the brain during memory formation happened in these brain cell cultures when estrogen was added.

When I see patients going through the menopausal transition, I not only inquire about hot flashes, night sweats, and the quality of their sleep, I also ask "How's your mood?" and "How's your memory?". The lack of estrogen affects women differently, some struggling far more than others in a brain function sense. I think the problems with verbal memory and executive functioning (starting a multi-step task and completing it successfully) along with the increase in anxiety and depression that can accompany falling estrogen levels are too often not addressed in women of age.


kenju said...

It may be that I have NEVER had enough estrogen (despite producing 3 kids). I couldn't take it in peri-menopause, due to strange side-effects.

Wendy said...

Wonder how long you can safely take estrogen? I've been told that HRT is a temporary solution, so what happens when you stop for good?

Mauigirl said...

I'm finally going through menopause (at almost 55!) and noticed a severe drop in my ability to remember and concentrate a few months ago. I didn't start on estrogen but did up my Prozac dose - and was surprised at how much better my brain is working now. I wonder if it shares some neural effect with estrogen?

annie's eyes said...

Brain fog has been a real problem for me, especially with taking Lyrica. I need creativity for my work and it impairs me to an embarrassing state of wordless sentences. I can't take estrogen, took Tamoxifin for 4 years, and now am still ovulating, to the best of my knowledge. I wonder about estrogen substitutes or soy plant estrogens? Are others efective for memory? Thanks for the information on a controversial and pervasive problem.