Review on January 23, 2008
It has long been known that estrogen plays an important role in brain activity, but the exact nature of this relationship has never been established. Although estrogen therapy is not associated with memory enhancement after menopause, low levels of estrogen are associated with cognitive difficulties, such as fuzzy thinking and difficulty concentrating. Because of this inconsistency, the effect of estrogen on concentration has remained controversial.
However, a recent article published in the Journal of American Medicine sheds some light on estrogen's affects on neural activity and a person's capacity to concentrate. A team of doctors from the Yale University School of Medicine explored this relationship by studying 46 menopausal women ranging in age from 33 to 61. Three weeks prior to the study, the women were started on either a placebo or estrogen treatment. The investigators then gauged brain activity as the women tried to memorize and remember nonsense words or foreign letters.
When the brain activity patterns of the two groups were analyzed, researchers discovered that the women who were given estrogen had quicker neural responses than women in the placebo group. These findings suggest that estrogen assists older women's brains to maintain the same kind of rapid neural activity of younger people. However, although estrogen augmented neural activity, when administered to postmenopausal women it did not actually ameliorate their memory.
This study has not provided the definitive explanation for the relationship of estrogen to cognitive activity, but it has made strides in doing so by helping to establish the connection between estrogen and more rapid communication between neurons, which can cause difficulty concentrating, as well as affecting thinking and memory.
- Gottlieb, Scott. "Research clarifies potential role of oestrogen in brain activity associated with memory." BMJ 318 (17 April 1999): 1030.