PUBLISHED: 14:37 EST, 25 March 2019
Estrogen therapy given to transgender women boost memories, heightens senses and hones motor skills by improving brain connections, study finds.
- The hormonal or endocrine and the central nervous system work closely together
- Before surgery, most trans women take hormone therapy to encourage their transition, but some quit taking estrogen and other hormones after surgery
- Off hormones, they experience similar symptoms to menopause, which can also come with brain fog
- A new Brazilian and Canadian study found that being on estrogen improved the way the trans women's' brain regions communicated
- It boosted connections between the thalamus and areas for fine motor skills, memory and learning, emotions and sensory perception
Taking estrogen after gender-affirming surgery improves brain connections key to memory, learning and emotion in transgender women, a new study finds.
Not only does this suggest that trans women should keep up hormone therapy post-op, it also underscores the deep connection between hormones and brain connectivity.
After having bottom surgery, removing the testicles, trans women experience the same symptoms that post-menopausal women do, such as hot flashes and night sweats.
The discovery, made by scientists at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, and at the Hospital de Clínicas de Porto Alegre in Brazil, suggests that estrogen therapy may benefit the brains of trans women and post-menopausal women alike.
As research advances, we are discovering more and more how central hormones are to many physical processes - and how interconnected these systems are.
The hormone or endocrine system plays a key role in instigating everything from how we process food to how stress effects the body and even our heartbeats.
And the new research sheds light on how sex hormones affect the brain, too.
For trans women, gender-affirming surgery can do wonders to dispel lifelong dysphoria, in turn improving mental health and overall quality of life.
As the trans community and trans issues are finally becoming more socially accepted, doctors have seen a swell in the number of people seeking and having gender-affirming operations.
In the case of trans women, a complete transition means removing the testicles and penis - and with them the production center for male hormones.
Prior to surgery, many trans women take estrogen - in addition to testosterone blockers and progesterones, in many cases - to encourage their transition.
These hormones have a four-part effect on trans women's bodies and minds.
Since post-menopausal women have the same symptoms and challenges when their bodies stop producing estrogen, this work suggests that hormone therapy may help protect them against the cognitive symptoms of menopause, like brain fog, too.
But more recent research suggests an even more complex relationship between hormones - estrogen in particular - and the brain.
Namely, as the Canadian and Brazilian research team reports, higher estrogen levels encourage connection and communication between the thalamus and brain regions the dictate our fine motor skills, learning, emotions and sensory perception.
This may explain the common reports of things 'feeling different.'
'We found taking estradiol' - an estrogen replacement - 'strengthened the thalamus' role as a 'relay station' for sensory and motor information in the brain,' the study authors said.
'This finding is a great advance for the neuroendocrinology sciences,' said lead researcher Dr Maiko Abel Schneider of McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.