In Sacramento and Davis area, the University of California, Davis has been studying for a decade the effects of estrogen on the brain. See the decade-old article, UC Davis Study Shows Estrogen Protects Brain Cells and Reduces Risk of Developing Alzheimer’s Disease. For later news on various estrogen studies at UC Davis, see the latest news reports coming out of research at the UC Davis Medical Center and the Center for Neuroscience.
For years scientists around the world have been studying women who have mental health disorders around the time of birth. Researchers now find that women with mental health problems after childbirth are more likely to have previously experienced domestic violence, according to a new study by UK researchers published in this week’s PLOS Medicine. Check out the abstract of the original study, “Domestic Violence and Perinatal Mental Disorders: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.”
For several years, Sacramento scientists and researchers from many areas of the nation have been presenting their findings at the Neuroscience meetings. In 2010 one such meeting was presented in San Diego where Peter Penzes, associate professor of physiology and of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Feinberg School, was the senior investigator in a study of the effects of estrogen on the brain.
Speaking of estrogen and the brain, skip now to this year, 2013, where another study overseas looked at the connection between mental health after childbirth and whether or not a woman experienced domestic violence in her life, particularly while pregnant. The woman who’s husband threatens her with domestic violence such as physical, verbal, psychological, or financial abuse during her pregnancy is more likely to have mental health issues soon after childbirth, says a new study on domestic violence and perinatal mental health, according to the May 28, 2013 news release, “Domestic violence and perinatal mental health.”
The perinatal period refers to the period before, during, and after pregnancy
In that new 2013 study, scientists found a link between domestic violence in a woman’s past and her mental health around the time of childbirth or shortly after (or before). Women who have mental health disorders around the time of birth are more likely to have previously experienced domestic violence, according to a study by UK researchers published in this week’s PLOS Medicine. You may also want to explore another study, also published in PLOS Medicine, “The Paradox of Mental Health: Over-Treatment and Under-Recognition.”
In the domestic violence link to mental issues around the time of childbirth or soon after, the latest study’s researchers, led by Louise Howard from King’s College London, found that high levels of symptoms of perinatal depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder were linked to having experienced domestic violence either during pregnancy, the past year, or over a woman’s lifetime. The researchers (also the authors of the published study) reached these conclusions by reviewing 67 relevant studies (in a systematic review) and combining the results.
You may want to explore the housebound housewife syndrome of agoraphobia and it’s link to post-partum chronic anxiety, being unable to leave the home as the threat of domestic violence or divorce and loss of the children increases in a marriage, another topic for research. Do women who experience agoraphobia and chronic anxiety after each pregnancy come from homes where they witness domestic violence between their parents since childhood and it begins to happen also in their own marriages? But that’s another branch of the topic of pregnancy and domestic violence and its effects on women at home with infants and/or small children.
The researchers found that around 12-13% cases of postnatal depression, for example, high levels of postnatal depressive symptoms, is linked with experiences of domestic violence during pregnancy.
In a further analysis, the authors found that women with antenatal and postnatal depression were three times more likely to have experienced domestic violence in the past year and 5 times more likely to have experienced domestic violence when pregnant. Women with antenatal anxiety disorders were also three times more likely to have experienced domestic violence over her lifetime but this figure was less in women with postnatal anxiety disorders.
It’s important to note that these findings cannot prove that domestic violence can cause perinatal mental health disorders or provide evidence that perinatal mental health disorders can lead to subsequent domestic violence, and there is no information on other perinatal mental disorders, such as eating disorders and puerperal psychosis.
Researchers can’t prove domestic violence can cause perinatal mental health disorders
The authors explain in the May 28, 2013 news release, Domestic violence and perinatal mental health, “Our finding that women with high levels of symptoms of a range of perinatal mental disorders have a high prevalence and increased odds of having experienced domestic violence both over the lifetime and during pregnancy highlights the importance of health professionals identifying and responding to domestic violence among women attending antenatal and mental health services.”
They continue in the news release, “Further data is… needed on how maternity and mental health services should best identify women with a history or current experience of domestic violence, respond appropriately and safely, and thus improve health outcomes for women and their infants in the perinatal period.” For further information, you may also wish to explore the studies in the Public Library of Science.
Why estrogen makes you smarter, scientists report
You may wish to see the November 17, 2010 news release, “Why estrogen makes you smarter.” According to the press release, estrogen is an elixir for the brain, sharpening mental performance in humans and animals and showing promise as a treatment for disorders of the brain such as Alzheimer’s disease and schizophrenia. But long-term estrogen therapy, once prescribed routinely for menopausal women, now is quite controversial because of research showing it increases the risk of cancer, heart disease and stroke.
The National Institutes of Health, the American Heart Association and the National Alliance for Research into Schizophrenia and Depression supported this latest study. Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine researchers recently discovered how to reap the benefits of estrogen without the risk, according to the news release.
Effects of estrogen on cortical brain cells
Using a special compound, they flipped a switch that mimics the effect of estrogen on cortical brain cells. The scientists also found how estrogen physically works in brain cells to boost mental performance, which had not been known.
When scientists flipped the switch, technically known as activating an estrogen receptor, they witnessed a dramatic increase in the number of connections between brains cells, or neurons. Those connections, called dendritic spines, are tiny bridges that enable the brain cells to talk to each other.
“We created more sites that could allow for more communication between the cells,” said lead investigator Deepak Srivastava, research assistant professor in neuroscience at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, in the news release, Why estrogen makes you smarter. “We are building more bridges so more information can go from one cell to another,” according to the November 17, 2010 news release.
Previous research has shown an increase in dendritic spines improves mental performance in animals. In humans, people who have Alzheimer’s disease or schizophrenia often have a decrease in these spines. “We think there is a strong link between the number of dendritic spines and your mental performance,” Srivastava said in the news release. “A major theory is if you increase the number of spines, it could be a way to treat these significant mental illnesses. “
Northwestern scientists also found strong clues that estrogen can be produced in cortical brain cells
They identified aromatase, a critical protein needed to produce estrogen, to be in precisely the right spot in the brain cell to make more dendritic spines. “We’ve found that the machinery needed to make estrogen in these brain cells is near the dendritic spines,” Srivastava said in the news release. “It’s exactly where it’s needed. There’s a lot of it in the right place at the right time. “
Next, Srivastava said, he wants to further identify the key molecules involved in the dendritic spine production and target them in the same way as the estrogen receptor in order to ultimately be able to treat schizophrenia and other mental disorders.
Nick Brandon, head of psychiatry at Pfizer Inc., whose group collaborated with the Penzes lab for this work, added, “We are very excited by the emerging data in this area. There is a great deal of literature and precedent for a role of estrogen and estrogen signaling in major mental illnesses.
This adds to our understanding of the specific neuronal functions. As we understand the effects of these specific estrogen receptor beta compounds in preclinical models, we are discovering effects on specific neuronal functions, which could be relevant for the treatment of cognitive disorders, depression and schizophrenia. “
The idea now is to find a way to use estrogen without raising the risk of cancer in women and to find out whether the estrogen stops working at a certain age. If you had to decide whether or not to take estrogen, would you get it from foods, indirectly, from bioidentical hormones, or talk to your doctor about what’s best for your body and brain? Research in this field is ongoing at many schools of medicine.
Should you take bio-identical hormones such as bio-identical estrogen and whatever else is required to balance it in your body?
Or is it healthier in the long term to let nature take its course and eat foods that mimic estrogen in your body? If you lose the aromatase in your body, is it predictive of mortality by cardiovascular problems? See the Nov. 16, 2010 Endocrine Today article, “Aromatase predictive of CVD mortality in postmenopausal women.”
Aromatase, according to the Wikipedia definition, is an enzyme that is responsible for a key step in the biosynthesis of estrogens. Because estrogens also promote certain cancers and other diseases, aromatase inhibitors are frequently used to treat those diseases.
Aromatase and aromatase inhibitors
More research is needed to see what happens when women are given aromatise inhibitors for certain cancers such as breast cancer, and whether it raises their risk of getting cardiovascular disease when aromatase is prevented from being manufactured in their body. An indirect method of measuring aromatase activity in postmenopausal women may also aid in the assessment of 25-year risk for cardiovascular disease mortality, according to an analysis of participants in the latest Rancho Bernardo, California study.
The study’s findings suggest that aromatase may be a novel endocrine factor that is predictive of cardiovascular mortality among postmenopausal women. To read more on this topic see, Laughlin G. Abstract 13804, presented at: American Heart Association Scientific Sessions 2010; Nov. 13-17, 2010; Chicago.
Additional studies are needed to determine whether the association of aromatase with cardiovascular death reflects genetic influences or perhaps some underlying disease influences that the scientists did not test
Why are scientists are touting estrogen as making you smarter when news reports keep mentioning cancer and stroke risks? But do you replace it, or face getting less smart as estrogen fades out of your body over time? But is it really estrogen you need or aromatase? That’s why research is continuing. Can you activate your brain and body to manufacture aromatase without taking the type of estrogen that increases the risk of cancer and strokes? That’s what the research is about.
And another questions, consumers might have is whether men, with less estrogen appear to be less smart than women with estrogen? Or does estrogen give women deeper intuition for navigating some areas of the human condition from which men have traditionally stayed distant?
And would this have anything to do with more women graduating from college than men? Or is it really that women’s pay has been so much lower than men’s pay in the past, that the only way to earn more is to finish college and compete in the world of work? On a deeper level, the research really is about what in the body can prevent post-menopausal women from developing progressive brain-related and cardiovascular problems and how aromatase works in the body.