We want to shed some light on a common cause of brain health issues that often goes unrecognized: hormonal decline. When you think about brain health, you probably aren’t thinking about your hormones. Those are more about hot flashes, night sweats, PMS, and low libido, right? Actually, hormones have a profound effect on brain health.
Do you experience any of the following symptoms?
• Difficulty concentrating at work or performing basic tasks
• Trouble remembering people’s names or simple words
• Feeling like you’ve lost parts of your memory
• Wondering if you might have the onset of Alzheimer’s
• Feeling like you’re in a fog and state of confusion
• Decreased mental sharpness
• Unable to focus
• Short term memory loss
• Feeling depressed
• Feeling like you are losing your mind
If you can relate to the above symptoms, you are not losing your mind. Don’t panic and rush to the assumption that you might have the onset of dementia or Alzheimer’s, because these symptoms could very well be caused by a hormone deficiency.
Hormonal Influences on Cognitive Function
Hormones are the chemical regulators of the human body and function to maintain various processes, such as growth, emotions and even cognition. Cognitive function refers to the brain’s ability to process information about the world and includes thinking, memory, recall, mental flexibility, problem solving and learning. Cognitive impairment can be caused by numerous factors such as genetics, aging, lifestyle, and, environment, however several studies have found that hormonal fluctuations are one of the key factors that lead to defects in cognitive function. (4)
How Hormonal Decline can Affect Brain Health
1. Hypothyroidism – Thyroid governs your metabolism and a high energy metabolism is essential for optimal brain health. Low thyroid function is a common cause of brain fog, depression, difficulty concentrating and short term memory loss. These conditions are very common in thyroid disorders.
Thyroid Hormones in Brain Development and Function
Thyroid hormones are essential for normal brain development and influence brain function throughout one’s life. In adults, hypothyroidism, or low thyroid function, can cause lethargy, weak muscles, and poor motor coordination, and is associated with bipolar affective disorders, depression, or loss of cognitive functions. Hypothyroidism is also often associated with memory impairment. Hypo- or hyperthyroidism can lead to mood disorders, dementia, confusion, and personality changes. (1)
Hypothyroidism is one of the diseases of the thyroid gland that can cause cognitive impairment. Hypothyroidism prevents the brain from adequately sustaining the energy (glucose) needed for neurotransmission, memory, and other higher brain functions and it also causes biochemical and biophysical changes in the hippocampus which is important for cognition. (2)
Cognitive impairment is a condition in which a person suffers in recalling, learning new things, concentrating, and making decisions that affect their everyday life. When cognitive impairment occurs it can affect attention, concentration, language, memory, psychomotor and executive functions. Early screening can decrease the progression of mild cognitive impairment to dementia by giving appropriate thyroid hormone replacement therapy. (2)
Research shows that thyroid disorders are one of the major causes of cognitive impairment including Alzheimer’s Disease. Several studies in recent years have indicated an association between hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism and Alzheimer’s Disease. Research concludes that thyroid hormones may be effective in treating Alzheimer’s disease. (3)
2. Testosterone – Testosterone is crucial for maintaining mental sharpness and mental clarity. Testosterone is believed to be one of the sex hormones that may reduce cognitive performance as its levels decrease with age. In young men, spatial ability is highly elevated and is associated with the levels of testosterone that are higher in young men compared to later in life. The effective use of spatial information can help a person navigate through their environment. These skills are used in solving problems in engineering, design, physics and mathematics. (4)
3. Estrogen, Progesterone and Testosterone – These hormones act directly on nerve cells in the brain, facilitating neurotransmission, protecting those cells from attack by neurotoxins and free radicals, and enhancing blood flow of the brain, all of which protect against loss of memory, cognition and progression of dementia.
Research shows that maternal hormones for pregnant women have an impact on tasks such as attention, working memory and executive functions. Tests on progesterone, testosterone, estrone, estradiol and estriol revealed positive correlations between overly high/overly low hormones with reduced verbal memory, attention and processing skills during pregnancy. (4)
4. Menopause/Estrogen – Menopause can cause memory loss, dementia and mood swings. These are signs that estrogen, progesterone and testosterone levels are declining.
Estrogen is manifested and highly expressed in the brain, mainly in the hippocampus area and cerebral cortex. Numerous studies confirm that estrogen acts as a neuroprotecting agent against aging effects such as dementia. Research findings have identified that estrogen may also play a role in memory, cognition and spatial tasks. There are estrogen receptors at multiple sites of brain regions: the hippocampal formation, the amygdala and the cerebral cortex. These three regions are responsible for the critical functioning of emotions, memory consolidation and retrieval, and cognitive processes in general. (4)
Estrogen has the potential ability to act as a neuroprotector, which may benefit memory. Estrogen hormone therapy is being suggested for menopausal women who are experiencing a decline in cognitive function, because this type of therapy is believed to reduce the risk of getting dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Neuroimaging findings lend support to hormone therapy’s ability to act as a neuroprotector for menopausal women, which can prevent the aging-related risk of brain atrophy, specifically in the frontal lobe and hippocampal cognitive area. (4)
5. Postpartum Depression – After childbirth, the drop in progesterone causes the low moods of postpartum depression.
6. Progesterone – Progesterone has a calming effect on the brain. It stimulates the brain’s GABA receptors, the feel-good, calming neurotransmitters.
Research demonstrated that for visual memory, women taking progesterone had more regional activity versus placebo. Progesterone was also associated with better verbal working memory versus placebo. Therefore, research shows that supplementing with progesterone treatment may benefit brain function. (5)
Progesterone also has a protective effect on the brain by reducing swelling and improving mental clarity after a traumatic brain injury. Research shows evidence that progesterone can play an important role in promoting and enhancing repair after traumatic brain injury and stroke. There is growing evidence that progesterone may be a safe and effective treatment for traumatic brain injury and other neural disorders in humans. (6)
Terri’s Story – Misdiagnosed with Alzheimer’s
Terri’s story is a prime example of someone who was suffering from memory loss due to hypothyroidism, but who was initially misdiagnosed by traditional doctors with the onset of Alzheimer’s.
“Although I had begun to notice some significant signs of memory loss 3 years ago, I dismissed them as stress related. At that time, I wasn’t the only person to recognize my deteriorated memory; my husband, children, employees and mother all began expressing their concerns. I became scared that I was facing the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.”
– Terri Jaggers
Optimal Hormone Levels for Optimal Brain Function
The bottom line is that hormonal function is important in maintaining the development of human growth and brain function. Hormonal changes can directly affect cognitive abilities such as memory, thinking, problem solving, spatial ability and even emotion. Hormones such as estrogen may also assist as neuro-protectors. Therefore, well-maintained hormones throughout life are crucial to support cognitive abilities for both men and women. (4)
Keeping your hormones at their optimal levels will help keep your brain working at its best. Don’t forget that some prescription drugs, such as the cholesterol lowering drugs, can cause memory loss, so be aware of the effects prescription drugs can have on your brain.
Is Hormone Imbalance Causing Your Symptoms?
Take our symptom checker health quiz to find out if you have symptoms of hormonal imbalance so that you can take action to protect not only your brain, but also your overall health.
Contact our Wellness Consultants today for a complimentary consultation at 281-698-8698. It will be our privilege to serve you.