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Estrogen and the brain

Updated: Jun 14

How does Estrogen affect the function of the your brain

While estrogen primarily acts on target tissues in the body, including the brain, it can have indirect effects on neurotransmitters and neuromodulatory systems. Estrogen receptors are found in various parts of the brain, and estrogen can influence the activity of neurotransmitters, including:

1. Serotonin: Estrogen can modulate serotonin receptors and transporters. This modulation can affect mood and emotional well-being. Changes in estrogen levels are associated with mood fluctuations and can contribute to conditions like premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and mood disorders.

2. Dopamine: Estrogen can influence dopamine levels and receptors in the brain. Dopamine is associated with reward, motivation, and pleasure. Changes in estrogen levels can impact the reward system and may contribute to changes in motivation, zest for life and mood.

3. Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid (GABA): Estrogen can influence the GABAergic system, which is the main inhibitory neurotransmitter system in the brain. Changes in GABA activity can affect anxiety and stress responses. Estrogen's modulation of GABA receptors may contribute to mood and anxiety-related symptoms.

4. Norepinephrine: Estrogen can influence the norepinephrine system, which is involved in the body's stress response. Changes in estrogen levels can affect norepinephrine activity, potentially contributing to mood fluctuations and stress responses.

5. Acetylcholine: Estrogen can influence the cholinergic system by modulating acetylcholine receptors and release. This can have effects on cognitive function, memory, and attention. Estrogen's role in maintaining cholinergic function is particularly important in the context of age-related cognitive decline and conditions like Alzheimer's disease. Estrogen has been studied in the context of hormone replacement therapy (HRT), which is often prescribed to manage menopausal symptoms in postmenopausal women. Some observational studies and early clinical trials suggested that HRT might have a protective effect on cognitive function and reduce the risk of dementia.

6. Glutamate: Glutamate is the primary excitatory neurotransmitter in the brain. Estrogen can affect glutamate receptors and signaling pathways. Changes in Estrogen levels may impact synaptic plasticity, learning, and memory processes mediated by glutamate neurotransmission.

7. Opioid Peptides: Estrogen can influence the endogenous opioid system, which includes opioid peptides like beta-endorphin. This system plays a role in pain perception, mood regulation, and reward pathways. Estrogen's modulation of this system can contribute to mood and pain perception.

8. Neurotrophic Factors: Estrogen can also influence the production and activity of neurotrophic factors such as brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). These factors support the growth, survival, and maintenance of neurons and are essential for learning, memory, and overall brain health.

9. Nitric Oxide (NO): Estrogen can affect nitric oxide production and signaling in the brain. NO is involved in vasodilation and blood flow regulation, which can impact brain function and cognitive performance.

It's important to note that the relationship between estrogen and neurotransmitters is complex and not fully understood. The effects of estrogen on neurotransmitter systems can vary depending on factors such as the specific brain region, the timing of estrogen exposure, and individual differences.

Dr Purity Carr is a GP and Menopause Doctor in Harvey,
Western Australia

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1 Comment

Unknown member
Sep 17, 2023

Thank you for this, which again highlights the potential effects of this life stage on mental health as well as general wellbeing. Such important informations for us all 😁👍

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