Do you feel like your brain is sharper certain times of the month while other times you feel like you just can’t concentrate? A new study from Concordia University supports those feelings and lays the blame on hormones, especially the female hormone estrogen.
Hormones are chemicals used by the body as messengers to regulate various functions including growth, metabolism, mood, reproduction, and sexual function. Estrogen is a hormone that is especially important to women’s sexual health. In addition to controlling women’s monthly periods, estrogen promotes breast growth, boosts metabolism, preserves bone density, and protects against heart disease.
Now, researchers at Concordia’s Center for Studies in Behavioural Neurobiology are adding a new item to the list of what estrogen does in the body. Based on their study using female rodents, the group concluded that high levels of estrogen limit brain abilities in female rats.
Researchers in this study used a process known as latent inhibition which is a recognized method of learning. To prepare for the study, rats were allowed to listen to a tone with no good or bad consequence associated with the sound. Once the rats learned to ignore the sound, researchers added another stimulus along with the tone. They discovered that rats with low estrogen quickly associated the new event with the sound of the tone. Rats with high estrogen took longer to remember that the two events were associated with each other. These findings were only seen in female rats.
The group went on to correlate these results with brain function in women. They found that high levels of estrogen make it harder for women to pay attention or concentrate. A woman’s estrogen level is highest during the time of the month when she is ovulating. At this point in her cycle, estrogen levels rise to trigger the ovaries to release an egg. Estrogen is critical to this process and to instructing the uterus or womb to get ready in case the egg is fertilized. If fertilization does not take place, estrogen levels drop which triggers the start of a woman’s period.