You have estrogen receptors all over your body, as well as in your brain, and it’s well-known that your hypothalamus is rich in estrogen receptors. We tend to assume that since estrogen is a sex hormone, it only affects sexual behavior. But it actually affects so much more. Let’s discuss how estrogen, the hypothalamus, and brain function all relate.
Estrogen is probably one of the most important hormones that your body makes.
Estrogen affects higher brain function, as well as hypothalamic function. Your hypothalamus perceives estrogen through a negative feedback system. When your estrogen levels are low, your hypothalamus produces more gonadotropin releasing hormone. To stimulate your pituitary to release follicle stimulating hormone. To tell your ovaries to produce more estrogen. Like a seesaw, it’s a negative feedback system between estrogen and hypothalamic-pituitary hormones.
While estrogen affects sexual behavior, it is also involved in fine motor coordination. It regulates your moods and your cognitive function. It also helps to protect the nerves in your brain.
As a steroid hormone, an interesting thing about estrogen is that its effect is not limited to the cell membrane receptors. Unlike other hormones, steroid hormones have receptor sites on the nucleus of the cell. This means that estrogen affects your DNA. Steroid hormones also signal other parts of the cell to do their jobs properly. For instance, estrogen rapidly changes the synapses in your brain.
Your nerves don’t actually touch one another. But the neurotransmitters produced by one nerve are released into the synapse. Which is then picked up by the receptor sites for that neurotransmitter on the other nerve. This starts the electrical impulse to move the message through the brain.
Estrogen literally remaps your brain.
During the menstrual cycle when estrogen fluctuates, the remapping can happen quickly. When estrogen peaks just before ovulation, it creates more synapses. And the day after ovulation when estrogen falls, those synapses are gone. The most potent form of estrogen, estradiol, helps to protect your brain. It stimulates nerve growth and keeps your nerves healthy. This is why as women’s estrogen levels fall during menopause, they can experience brain fog. As both men and women age, and make less sex steroids, their brain becomes estrogen deficient. Their neurons lose the ability to pass on information well. This can result in memory loss and concentration difficulty.
We know so much about estrogen because we’ve done quite a few studies. Not only on animals, but also on humans. We look at cognitive tests and mood evaluations during different hormonal states. Like different parts of the menstrual cycle or the pre and postnatal states. Estrogen definitely affects your emotions and your stress response. It’s important to understand that your hypothalamus controls your estrogen production. But also your progesterone production. Estrogen receptors are actually stimulated by progesterone, and vice versa. These two hormones work hand in hand.
So while estrogen is one of the most important hormones that your body makes, progesterone is its partner. You need both in order to stay healthy.
If you have any questions about estrogen, your hypothalamus, and your brain function, why don’t you join me in our Hormone Support Group. You can get free access to the group by signing up for my free Hormone Reboot Training. It is based on my book, Hormones in Harmony: Heal your Hypothalamus for Graceful Aging and Vital Energy.
Chapter 5 speaks volumes about your sex hormones, particularly the function of estradiol. As well as how your hypothalamus controls that function. I hope you’ll join us!