What is Big Think?  

We are Big Idea Hunters…

We live in a time of information abundance, which far too many of us see as information overload. With the sum total of human knowledge, past and present, at our fingertips, we’re faced with a crisis of attention: which ideas should we engage with, and why? Big Think is an evolving roadmap to the best thinking on the planet — the ideas that can help you think flexibly and act decisively in a multivariate world.

A word about Big Ideas and Themes — The architecture of Big Think

Big ideas are lenses for envisioning the future. Every article and video on bigthink.com and on our learning platforms is based on an emerging “big idea” that is significant, widely relevant, and actionable. We’re sifting the noise for the questions and insights that have the power to change all of our lives, for decades to come. For example, reverse-engineering is a big idea in that the concept is increasingly useful across multiple disciplines, from education to nanotechnology.

Themes are the seven broad umbrellas under which we organize the hundreds of big ideas that populate Big Think. They include New World Order, Earth and Beyond, 21st Century Living, Going Mental, Extreme Biology, Power and Influence, and Inventing the Future.

Big Think Features:

12,000+ Expert Videos

1

Browse videos featuring experts across a wide range of disciplines, from personal health to business leadership to neuroscience.

Watch videos

World Renowned Bloggers

2

Big Think’s contributors offer expert analysis of the big ideas behind the news.

Go to blogs

Big Think Edge

3

Big Think’s Edge learning platform for career mentorship and professional development provides engaging and actionable courses delivered by the people who are shaping our future.

Find out more
Close

Menopause, Estrogen and the Brain

April 15, 2012, 12:00 AM
Shutterstock_3939247

Sex hormones like estrogen and testosterone don't just race around the body, helping to facilitate reproductive behaviors.  We now know that the brain is full of receptors for these sex steroids, and that these hormones act on brain cells both as a mediator--helping other chemicals do their work in the synapse--and through direct action on their own.  Estrogen and testosterone may act as neurotransmitters in their own right and work signaling magic in the cortex.  As such, they influence human cognition and behavior.

But understanding how these chemicals are doing this is outrageously complicated, says Paul Micevych, a a molecular biologist from the University of California, Los Angeles, who studies how estradiol, a form of estrogen, works in the brain.  While our conversation was about how important estradiol signaling is when it comes to love and sex related behaviors (chronicled in Dirty Minds), he also mentioned menopause.

"It's not that the female brain can't function without estradiol.  Women, after menopause, are a clear example of the fact that women can function very well without estradiol," he told me.  "But during menopause, when you start to lose that estradiol, the brain struggles.  It's just lost a chemical that it's been dependent on.  And now it has to function without that support--resulting in changes to emotional response, to hot flashes, to memory loss.  The brain is fine afterwards but, with menopause and that loss of estradiol, it takes a while for the brain to reset."

That conversation came back to mind when I read about a study recently completed at the University of Illinois at Chicago that shows that menopause "fog" is real--and likely isn't just the result of normal age-related cognitive decline.

Pauline Maki, director of Women's Mental Health Research in the department of psychiatry at University of Illinois at Chicago, and colleagues followed 75 women in perimenopause, documenting their hormone levels, cognitive skills, mood and overall health.  They also asked them to rate how serious they thought their memory loss was--and 41% of participants said their memory problems were serious.

The interesting thing here?  Individuals in age-related cognitive decline do *not* report that their memory loss is a problem.  The fact that these women recognized it was telling.

The group found results that suggest menopause "fog" is not due to poor mood, hot flashes or poor sleep.  Rather, fluctuating estrogen, influencing parts of the brain involved with memory, was the culprit.  Yet, the researchers did not find an association between lower estrogen (when measured in the blood) and memory ability.

As Micevych said, understanding this critical signaling is complicated.  But the good news, for both Maki's subjects and the rest of us women, is that the brain will eventually reset.  Until science advances to give us a better understanding of how estrogen is influencing memory during the great change of life, us girls will just have to muddle through it. 

Credit:  Sue Smith/Shutterstock.com

 

Menopause, Estrogen and the...

Newsletter: Share: