According to a study by a research group of the Harvard Medical School in Boston, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, hormonal changes that characterize the different reproductive stages in women’s lives can also affect brain function and worsen some processes, such as memory.
Hormonal changes and brain functionalities
As Professor Michela Matteoli, Head of the Neuro Center in Humanitas and Director of the Institute of Neuroscience at the CNR, explains in an interview on Repubblica: “We have known for some time that the functioning of the brain is also regulated by hormones. In women, female hormones such as estrogen and progesterone, already influence brain development since prenatal development: control the growth of neuritis (i.e. the extension of neurons), the process of synapse formation, the formation of myelin (the sheath that covers neuronal extensions and facilitates the diffusion of the electrical signal), and plasticity, i.e. the neuronal basis of the learning process. In the brain, the hippocampus, which is the region related to memory storage, contains high levels of receptors for estrogen and progesterone. It’s no wonder that changes in hormonal levels during a woman’s life are reflected in brain function.
Is there a direct or indirect link?
The link between menopause and memory may not be so strong, the professor explains: “Many researchers believe that mental confusion at this stage of life is not directly due to the lack of action of hormones on specific receptors, but indirectly to hormonal changes in general. We know that these changes cause other symptoms such as mood swings and sleep disorders, which in turn can have a negative impact on cognitive functions”.