Are you having problems concentrating? If you’re a woman, you can blame it on your hormones. According to a new study published in the journal Brain and Cognition, high estrogen levels reduce the ability to focus and concentrate.
High Estrogen Levels and Problems Concentrating: Is There an Association?
Using a technique called latent inhibition, researchers tested a rat’s ability to respond to and interpret new sounds. They found that rats with high estrogen levels had more difficulty forming new associations and memories when presented with novel sounds, than did rats with lower levels of estrogen. In these rats, high levels of estrogen not only decreased their ability to focus, but their cognitive skills as well.
Estrogen levels are higher at the time a rat (or a woman) ovulates. Estrogen levels are also greater in women who are obese, take birth control pills, and those who are pregnant. Estrogen levels fluctuate and are transiently high during peri-menopause and early menopause.
How Do High Estrogen Levels Reduce the Ability to Focus?
No one knows exactly why high estrogen levels decrease the ability to focus or concentrate. Although this study was done in rats, researchers believe the results apply to humans too. Several small studies show that women have more problems concentrating when they’re ovulating. Scientists already know that estrogen has direct effects on the brain, possibly by interfering with signaling molecules within brain pathways involved with focus, attention, and learning.
Estrogen Levels and the Ability to Focus: What’s the Verdict?
The next step is to find out how high estrogen levels affect brain activity – and whether oral contraceptives and hormone-replacement therapy have any effect on the ability to focus. Even if high estrogen levels cause problems concentrating, estrogen is still important for brain health. It helps to protect brain tissue against damage, increases blood flow to the brain, and helps to stabilize mood.
Low levels of estrogen may contribute to the mood swings that some women experience during menopause – and low levels are associated with memory problems in post-menopausal women. Why the discrepancy? It may be that there’s an optimal level of estrogen for good brain function and either too much or too little decreases focus, memory, and cognitive function. The bottom line? There’s still a lot to learn about the role of estrogen and how it affects the health of a woman’s brain.
Eurekalert.org. “Can’t focus? Maybe it’s the wrong time of month”