Estrogen hormone fluctuation during menopause increases sensitivity to stress, depression

Estrogen hormone fluctuation during menopause increases sensitivity to stress, depressionEstrogen hormone fluctuation during menopause increases sensitivity to stress and depression. Estrogen is typically a female hormone – it is also found in small amounts in males – that is produced by the ovaries, the adrenal cortex and the fetoplacental unit.

Estrogen’s main roles are development and growth in female secondary sexual characteristics, such as breasts, pubic and armpit hair, endometrium, and regulation of the menstrual cycle and reproductive system. In males, estrogen assists in the male reproductive process and with some aspects of male puberty.


Throughout a woman’s life estrogen levels rise until menopause, when they begin to decrease.  Although levels will never be at zero, declining estrogen levels can inflict many different changes in a woman, such as the stoppage of menstruation. Research has also found that changes in estrogen increases sensitivity to stress and depression.

Fluctuation of hormone estrogen increases sensitivity to stress, depression

Fluctuation of hormone estrogen increases sensitivity to stress, depressionA form of estrogen, known as estradiol, fluctuates during the process of menopause. These fluctuations can increase a woman’s sensitivity to stress and depression. Other research has indicated that women, in general, at are higher risk of experiencing depression in comparison to men. Depressive episodes in women are believed to be associated with reproductive changes, like perinatal depression and premenstrual dysphoric disorder. The latest findings suggest that between 26 and 33 percent of women will experience depression within the context of perimenopausal hormonal flux.

The study had women on a 12-month placebo-controlled, randomized trial to evaluate cardiovascular benefits of transdermal estradiol in perimenopausal women. Estradiol variability led to depressive symptoms and greater feelings of anger and irritability. Furthermore, fluctuations in estradiol increased a woman’s risk of feeling social rejection, and when sensitivity to social rejection increases and is combined with other life stressors, it puts women at greater risk for depression.

JoAnn Pinkerton, M.D., executive director at The North American Menopause Society (NAMS), said, “These results provide tremendous insight for practitioners. Clinicians need to understand the impact of perimenopausal hormonal fluctuations and the degree of stressful events that a woman is experiencing to determine the best treatment options when a middle-aged woman complains of depression or exaggerated irritability. This study provides a foundation for future studies to evaluate the value of psycho-social interventions, such as cognitive therapies, to lessen the effect of major life events, as well as the use of estrogen therapy during perimenopausal and menopausal stressful times.”

Gene therapy used to extend estrogen’s protective effects on memory

Gene therapy used to extend estrogen’s protective effects on memoryAdditional research has found that gene therapy could be an effective way to extend estrogen’s protective effects on memory. After the age of 65, the protective effects of estrogen on memory begin to decline, and even estrogen replacement therapy is not as effective after that age as well. Researchers at the University of Florida have found the use of gene therapy can help extend estrogen’s protective effects on memory.

Scientist, Thomas C. Foster, Ph.D., said, “There is a window of time, starting around menopause, when initiation of hormone replacement therapy with estrogen protects the brain against injury and Alzheimer’s disease. However, this window seems to end around age 65.”

Gene therapy was used to overexpress two different estrogen receptors found in the hippocampus – a part of the brain responsible for memory. High levels of these receptors were found to reinstate memory in aging rats when paired with estrogen.

Dr. Foster added, “In the short term, this finding helps us understand how estrogen rescues memory and keeps the brain young and plastic. In the long term, this finding may eventually allow us to bypass estrogen and target the receptor or brain plasticity mechanisms directly. Now that we know this has an effect, we can look for potential ways to treat cognition without hormone replacement.”

Effects of estrogen on the body

There are numerous effects that estrogen has on the body, including:

  • Helps stimulate egg growth in the ovaries
  • Stimulates growth of the vagina
  • Helps develop fallopian tubes
  • Helps maintain the uterus
  • Regulates flow and thickness of uterine mucus in the cervix
  • Responsible for growth and development of breasts
  • Maintains bone strength and shape
  • Contributes to curved body
  • Helps develop voice box
  • Maintains oils and reduces risk of acne
  • Helps maintain body temperature
  • May delay memory loss
  • Regulates parts of the brain responsible for sexual and reproductive development
  • Increases serotonin
  • Protects nerves from damage
  • Increases cortisol and sex hormones
  • Increases melanin
  • Reduces eumelanin
  • Increases sensitivity to insulin
  • Improves skin quality and thickness
  • Regulates menstruation

Foods high in estrogen

If your estrogen is low, you can consume foods that contain it to help increase your levels. Here is a list of foods that contain estrogen.

  • Foods high in estrogenDried fruit
  • Flaxseed
  • Sesame seeds
  • Chickpeas
  • Beans
  • Peas
  • Tempeh
  • Alfalfa sprouts
  • Bran cereals
  • Soy milk
  • Tofu
  • Soybeans

It’s important to be aware of your estrogen levels or other health conditions that require you to lower your estrogen, in case you need to steer clear of those foods instead of eating more of them.

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Author Bio

Emily Lunardo studied medical sociology at York University with a strong focus on the social determinants of health and mental illness. She is a registered Zumba instructor, as well as a Canfit Pro trainer, who teaches fitness classes on a weekly basis. Emily practices healthy habits in her own life as well as helps others with their own personal health goals. Emily joined Bel Marra Health as a health writer in 2013.