Posted by Gretchen Jones on Apr 28, 2019
A study conducted at the University of Southern California demonstrated that estrogen promotes the growth of those essential neurons in the brain's hippocampus that are critical to memory function. Scientists there created a hippocampal campus in a petri dish, inducing these cells from the memory center to set up housekeeping in the USC lab. They then squirted conjugated equine estrogens (CEEs or Premarin) on the nerve cell colonies and watched the results under a video microscope.
The cells literally bristled with excitement. The addition of estrogen juice significantly increased the number of dendrites or outgrowths of the cell membranes which are known to be cellular markers of memory formation. Dendrites hook-up with other neurons to form new connections, a process that promotes brain 'plasticity' or the ability to learn new material and make new associations. In other words, the same cellular events that occur in the hippocampus of the brain during memory formation happened in these brain cell cultures when estrogen was added.
When I see patients going through the menopausal transition, I not only inquire about hot flashes, night sweats, and the quality of their sleep, I also ask "How's your mood?" and "How's your memory?". The lack of estrogen affects women differently, some struggling far more than others in a brain function sense. I think the problems with verbal memory and executive functioning (starting a multi-step task and completing it successfully) along with the increase in anxiety and depression that can accompany falling estrogen levels are too often not addressed in women of age.