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Woman to Woman

Honest talk from an ob/gyn & menopause practitioner dedicated to mid-life women

  • Catherine Hansen

How hormones & stress impact women's brain health

Did you know that women's brains are far more likely to develop diseases than men?! According this online article, the range of brain-health issues that affect women more than men include:

  • women are more likely to develop Alzheimer's

  • women are 2x as likely as men to develop certain types of brain tumors

  • women are 2x as likely to deal with depression

  • women are 3x as likely to get headaches

  • women are also more likely to have a stroke and to develop an autoimmune disorder that affects the brain like multiple sclerosis.

Why are women's brains more susceptible to these brain issues than men? Research points to biological sex differences and stress caused by women's social roles. Consider that estrogen is fuel for and protects the female brain—it regulates energy production, keeps brain cells & areas of the brain responsible for memory, healthy, and helps with metabolizing glucose for energy. Women experience multiple surges and dips in estrogen during their lifetime: puberty, pregnancy, and perimenopause. Changing hormones in the female brain during these life events accelerate the aging process, weakens neurons, lowering defenses and making the brain more susceptible to disease.

Another important factor to consider is how stress affects the brain. Recent research "found that chronic stress led to brain shrinkage and reduced memory performance in people in their 40s and 50s—a change that was more severe in women." Biologically, women are not as able as men to adapt their brain's response to chronic stress. The result is heightened impact on any cognitive decline a woman is already experiencing, such as brain fog or memory loss. "This is a big problem for women in particular because we tend to experience some types of stresses more than men do, at every age...From our mid-30s to our mid-40s, women are in the work/life/caring-for-children-and-elders/juggling-everything years—and that happens to be when perimenopause is sending estrogen levels down as well." This creates a perfect breeding ground for various brain health issues to blossom! Although we can't eliminate stress or opt out of certain life events, there are various things women can do to protect their brains. Tune in next week for 5 ways to boost your brain health!


Sources: Why Women’s Brains Are More Vulnerable to Disease, From Anxiety to Alzheimer’s