The sex hormone boosts thinking in some women, impairs it in others
By Erik Vance
Big test coming up? Having trouble concentrating? Try a little estrogen.
Neuroscientists at the University of California, Berkeley, report in a recent study that hormone fluctuations during a woman’s menstrual cycle may affect the brain as much as do substances such as caffeine, methamphetamines or the popular attention drug Ritalin.
Scientists have known for decades that working memory (short-term information processing) is dependent on the chemical dopamine. In fact, drugs like Ritalin mimic dopamine to help people concentrate. Researchers have also had evidence that in rats, estrogen seems to trigger a release of dopamine. The new study from Berkeley, however, is the first to show that cognition is tied to estrogen levels in people—explaining why some women have better or worse cognitive abilities at varying points in their menstrual cycles.