Apparently not! At least not according to research done by Liisa Galea from the University of British Columbia. Hormone Therapy is used with varying results in treating the loss of memory often seen with menopause.
“Our most recent research shows that previous motherhood alters cognition and neuroplasticity in response to hormone therapy, demonstrating that motherhood permanently alters the brain” says Dr. Liisa Galea.
She focused mainly on the hippocampus involved in memory and spatial ability. So how does this work?
This is the most potent form of estrogen and predominant in young women with beneficial effects on bones and protection against heart disease. This is the only form of estrogen that significantly increased the survival of new neurons and increased the expression of zif268, a protein involved in neuroplasticity.
This is the weaker form of estrogen and more predominant in older women. It is also the most common form of hormone therapy prescribed for women in the US. The effect of estrone seems to depend on whether the woman has experienced motherhood or not.
Both forms of estrogen seem to increase the production of new cells in the dentate gyrus of the hippocampus, but only the estradiol increased its survival. Motherhood further changes the way neurons connect in the hippocampus with reductions in neurogenesis and zif268 proteins.
Based on the research it is hypothesized that women who have children experience worsening of memory on estrone-based hormone therapy, while those who have not had children see improvements in learning ability. This is based on the differences in neural connections in the hippocampus between these women as a result of motherhood.
This may indicate the need for more careful consideration when choosing appropriate hormone replacement for women.
Whilst this study was concentrating more on the role of estrogen on brain neuroplasticity, there are other aspects to consider as well when it comes to estrogen and the brain.
During pregnancy choline demands increase quite significantly. The reason for this is that the placenta accumulates choline and stores it as acetylcholine, ready for neurotransmitter production. The amniotic fluid can often have 10x the amount of choline that is found in the maternal blood. The increase in hormones and estrogen during pregnancy will results in PEMT upregulation which will go a long way to produce more choline in the form of phosphatidylcholine. When dietary choline intake falls short not enough phosphatidylcholine is made for both mother and baby. The mother will feel this more profoundly as resources are shunted towards the fetus for growth and development. A decrease in phosphatidylcholine leads to memory and cognitive dysfunction, or Baby Brain.
Phosphatidylcholine is the main phospholipid needed for healthy outer cell membranes, neural function and memory. After menopause estrogen will start to drop off as the ovaries slow down production of estrogen and the adrenals start to take over. This drop in estrogen may result in PEMT downregulation with less phosphatidylethanolamine transformed to phosphatidylcholine. Low phosphatidylcholine could explain memory problems often associated with menopause. However, eating more choline-rich foods could again increase PEMT and reverse some of these unpleasant symptoms.
Foods rich in choline include eggs (yolks), lecithin, sunflower seeds and red meat.
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