Menopause, which marks the end of a woman’s reproductive life, is something roughly half of the world’s population will go through if they live long enough. But this stage — like so much surrounding women’s health — is poorly understood.
A drop in hormones, primarily estrogen, is the driving force behind menopause’s signature event: the reduction and eventual end of fertility. Yet women experience a long list of other symptoms during perimenopause (the years leading up to menopause) that are not limited to the reproductive organs, such as hot flashes, brain fog, mood swings, exhaustion and sleep disturbances.
But it was only relatively recently that researchers learned that estrogen’s influence can be felt far beyond the uterus and ovaries.
“The fact that estrogen has an impact on the brain was only discovered in 1996,” Lisa Mosconi, an associate professor of neuroscience and the director of the Women’s Brain Initiative at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City, told CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr Sanjay Gupta. “For context, men landed on the moon 30 years prior.”
Mosconi and her team imaged the brains of more than 160 women between the ages of 40 and 65. The women were premenopausal (still getting regular periods), perimenopausal and postmenopausal (after they had stopped getting periods for more than one year).
What she discovered was startling and even revolutionary: women’s brains underwent a remodeling. That’s to say, some areas shrank, others grew, and regions got rewired. (While her paper was published in 2021 in Nature Scientific Reports, Mosconi has kept adding women’s brain scans to her database.)
“Menopause is the third of the three P’s — these three phases that the female brain goes through in life — which are puberty, pregnancy and perimenopause… And those three phases are seen very differently culturally and in society, but from a neurological perspective, from a brain perspective, they have a lot in common,” Mosconi explained, noting that they all involve big changes in the brain, not just the body.
As for the brain changes during menopause, Mosconi said, “there’s this huge neurological system that links your brain with your ovaries that is so important for reproduction, for hosting a baby, for hosting a pregnancy — that then needs to be dismantled once you’re no longer reproductive.”
“And all three phases come with vulnerability — there are a lot of unpleasant symptoms that can arise due to menopause — but also with resilience. And I think the resilience aspect has been completely overlooked in medicine, in science and certainly in culture,” Mosconi said.
She adds that what happens during menopause can have implications for brain health in later years.
Source : CNN