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Menopause – Is It All In Your Head?
By Kate Placzek, PhD., ZRT Laboratory
We've heard Dr. Zava call it the "angel of life, and the angel of death." Too much can be hazardous. Too little can be problematic also. Not many people realize this, but estrogen plays a role in more bodily functions than just reproduction. In fact, estrogen has many important functions in the brain.Studies show that decreasing levels of estrogen can cause two of the most common perimenopause symptoms hot flashes and mood fluctuations. Curious how this happens? Read on to learn the details of this biochemistry.
Perimenopausal Stages & Symptoms
Some experts regard perimenopause as a time of great vulnerability during which an increased risk of neurological decline can emerge for a substantial proportion of women.
Fluctuations in reproductive hormones define the dynamic period of a woman’s life, called perimenopause, in which the first endocrine, biological, and clinical features of impending menopause begin. Unlike puberty, when hormones strive to rev up to a constant hum by short, intense, and dramatic spikes, in perimenopause these same hormones increase and decrease slowly, with a gradual and overall effect of winding down.
Neurological Nature of the Perimenopausal Transition
In clinical terms, perimenopause initiates a systematic and targeted disassembly cascade of the reproductive system. Although the classical definition focuses mainly on the reproductive system, perimenopause is fundamentally neurological in nature . The breadth of neurological symptoms associated with perimenopause, such as mood changes, insomnia, decreasing cognitive function, and temperature dysregulation, suggest a disruption of centrally-regulated mechanisms. The ovarian hormones estrogen and progesterone, which are essential reproductive and neural substrates, are at the heart of this transition. This blog is going to primarily focus on estrogen in the context of perimenopausal symptomatology.
Estradiol – The Master Regulator
A Network of Estrogen Receptors
The ovarian-neural estrogen axis modulates a myriad of neurological processes via a network of estrogen receptors. The locations of estrogen receptors in the brain coincide with the relevant neuroanatomical regions that regulate executive and affective functions, and vasomotor stability. Estradiol signaling via the estrogen receptors ensures that the brain effectively responds to stimuli in a timely fashion, and that neurons generate sufficient energy to meet demand.
Changes in the organization of the estrogen receptor network within the brain or alterations of circulating estradiol levels can elicit profound consequences on neural circuit function
Changes in the organization of the estrogen receptor network within the brain or alterations of circulating estradiol levels can elicit profound consequences on neural circuit function. One such example of a functional consequence of decreasing estradiol levels is perimenopause, when the estrogen receptor network undergoes uncoupling from the bioenergetics system, giving rise to a hypometabolic state associated with neurological dysfunction .Some experts present convincing evidence that hypometabolic states are intimately linked with vasomotor and mood symptoms in perimenopause.