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How Estradiol Boosts Brain Function

Written by Helen Quach, BS (Biochemistry) | Last updated:
Jonathan Ritter
Medically reviewed by
Jonathan Ritter, PharmD, PhD (Pharmacology) | Written by Helen Quach, BS (Biochemistry) | Last updated:

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Estradiol is the main female sex hormone (estrogen). It is important for both female and male reproductive health, brain and thyroid function, bone health and development, and maintaining a healthy weight.

Estradiol is important to monitor, especially if you have weight, thyroid, or reproductive issues.

Keep reading to learn more about how estradiol helps improve cognitive function and how you can increase your levels.

What is Estradiol?

Estradiol (E2) is the most active estrogen in the body. It is produced mainly in the ovaries; however, the brain, fat cells, immune system cells, and bones can also produce estradiol. It is produced from the sex hormones testosterone, androstenedione, and progesterone [1].

Estradiol helps protect the brain. It also plays a role in the creation of connections between nerve cells in the brain and may inhibit or promote this process depending on the location. It also influences the development of nerve cells in the brain by controlling gene expression and calcium release [2, 3].

Estradiol influences cognitive function, which is the ability to learn, retain, and recall information. Cognition includes memory, reasoning, attention, and comprehension. Estradiol may be responsible for the differences in brain function between sexes, such as differences in thinking, stress and anxiety, aggression, and movement in males and females [3, 4].

Another important function of estradiol is influencing dopamine levels and activity. By increasing the release of dopamine, estradiol can enhance motivation, especially sexual motivation [5].

Estradiol levels decrease as you age. For women, estradiol levels decrease sharply during menopause. This decrease contributes to age-related declines in memory and learning [3].

Additionally, people with low estradiol levels can have an impaired stress response and are more susceptible to stress [6].

High Estradiol Levels Enhances Certain Cognitive Functions

There are notable differences in brain function between males and females. While men outperform women on spatial tasks, women perform better on tasks related to short-term memory and verbal abilities, including speech development, spelling, and grammar. These findings may be attributed to the difference in estrogen levels between women and men [3].

Estrogen Therapy Improves Memory

In a study of 31 men and 39 women, women with higher salivary estradiol levels performed better on memory tasks than both women with low estradiol and men [7].

In a review of four studies, post-menopausal women performed worse on verbal memory and fluency tasks than pre-menopausal women, who had higher estradiol levels [8].

Verbal Memory

One study of 29 postmenopausal women, treatment with estradiol slightly improved verbal memory [9].

Short-term Memory

In one trial of 14 women, estrogen injections for three days improved short-term memory [10].

Another study looked at 343 women who participated in studies where they had short-term estrogen therapy administered in the early phase of menopause. The hormone therapy group had a 64% decreased risk of cognitive impairment, including memory [11].

Additionally, in various rat and mice studies, estradiol (most often 17ß-estradiol) enhanced brain function, such as object recognition and working memory [12, 3, 13].

However, a women’s responsiveness to estrogen therapy may decrease with age and time after menopause. After a certain age, estradiol may stop having protective effects on cognition [12].

Further Reading

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About the Author

Helen Quach

BS (Biochemistry)

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