Brain Function & Sex Hormones

I’ll bet this title got your attention! Sex sells. In this article, I’d like to expand your appreciation about how important “sex” hormones affect the brain. Here is a simple example: Why do, and what happens when, we spay or neuter animals? First, of course, is birth control. The second, however, is the change in behavior we desire.

Animals castrated are more docile, less aggressive, “lazy”, and gain weight—especially in the trunk and belly. Right? Well, extrapolate that to the human animal, even if the “castration” is natural, such as menopause or aging, when sex hormones progressively decline. Young animals (and humans) are playful, curious, energetic, exploratory, aggressive, and generally joyful. Older animals (and humans) sit around, are less curious, less aggressive, and explore less and less. WHY?

Dopamine! Sex hormones generate the production of dopamine, especially in the frontal part of the brain where much of our so-called “executive” function resides. Dopamine is the “joy” chemical. It allows perception of pleasure—which is a driving force. It increases territoriality—aggressively exploring and protecting food, resources, and sex—basic drives. Dopamine increases physical activity—playfulness, competition, and pursuing the opposite sex. It also improves motor function— how many 40-50 year old professional athletes do you know?

Dopamine levels in brain cells fall 30% within 12 weeks of castration. You can easily and quickly visualize the change in your dog. The question is, are other aspects of dopamine function diminished?

Dopamine “connects” brain cells in the frontal cortex. It is literally the messenger allowing one brain cell to talk to adjacent brain cells. As dopamine levels fall, there is literally less “chatter” among cells. Messages are communicated much more slowly and less completely. Inquisitiveness is diminished, focus is dulled, tasking is less complete—“victory” is less important.
Proactive activity declines.

In addition, dopamine is involved in the sleep process. The need for sleep diminishes and sleep quality (as measured in EEG brain wave studies) changes. Sleep is the restorative process where brain cells recover from excessive activity and memories are formed. If you don’t quite remember what you did yesterday as well, how can you prepare and function better tomorrow?

In women, hot flashes occur (due to changes in serotonin, another neurotransmitter) and in men coldness often occurs and loss of interest (or at least less interest) in sex. Physical manifestations of decline appear in addition to fat gain—wrinkles (collagen loss), postural changes (bone loss), weakness (muscle loss), and protein loss (body hair loss).

For someone who treats Attention Deficit in adults, it is striking—and I do mean STRIKING—how brain function improves in many when hormone levels are restored. When I tell someone considering hormone replacement what we will measure, and if it is worth the risk or cost—the word LIFE CHANGING is what I demand. LIFE CHANGE can be measured in days or weeks in most cases IF hormone deficiency is a culprit.

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