Estrogen Effect in the Brain Helps Calm Females During Stress More Than Boys
I have always been intrigued by the gender difference in things like the prevalence of autism and ADHD which is so much more prevalent in boys than in girls. When ADHD or autism is present in girls, it seems often to have a slightly less severe presentation. Past studies have show that nerve cells in the presence of testosterone are more vulnerable to mercury toxicity. Testosterone deficiency has been associated with anxiety and depression. This study (read the abstract here) in the journal Molecular Psychiatry July 9th 2013, looked at rat response to repeated stress. Young female rats responded better than males in short term memory and ability to recognize a familiar object, signifying that the glutamate receptor in the prefrontal cortex that controls working memory, attention, decision-making, emotions, and high level executive function was signaling better in the presence of estrogen. This was done by manipulating the amount of estrogen or blocking estrogen effects. Males with more estrogen had improved function and females with less estrogen effect were more impaired.
Yan, the senior author has said, “when estrogen signaling in the brains of females was blocked, stress exhibited detrimental effects on them, and when estrogen signaling was activated in males, the detrimental effects of stress were blocked”.
I’m not suggesting that all us males get on estrogen, and from the literature on endocrine disrupters, we know that added estrogen effects can be harmful. It does however add one more piece to the puzzle explaining gender differences in brain vulnerability. Take home message in my mind is to avoid toxins (pesticides and plastics in particular) which are known to have endocrine effects.