Estrogen is well known for its role in the sexual development and physical maturation of women. However, according to Marla Ahlgrimm, new research indicates that it may also serve to protect the female brain from trauma.
There are a number of research papers which suggest that women develop posttraumatic stress disorder more often than men, despite lesser exposure to harrowing traumatic events.
A recent study performed by Emory University in collaboration with Harvard Medical School indicates that estrogen may play a role in reducing the development of PTSD. Estrogen, which is essential for its role in female sexuality and pregnancy, may have further reaching effects than originally believed, says Marla Ahlgrimm.
Similar studies have found that women who experienced trauma tend to have an increased number of trauma-related symptoms approximately a week after ovulation, during the mid-luteal phase. Marla Ahlgrimm explains that the mid-luteal phase is the time when the body contains less estrogen and produces higher volumes of progesterone.
Researchers from the Emory/Harvard study looked closely at how estrogen affects gene activity throughout the brain. Both menopausal and childbearing-aged women were studied.
Marla Ahlgrimm reports that a single gene, HDAC4, is affected by waning estrogen levels. HDAC4 is also associated with long-term memory formation, learning, and behavior. This particular gene, or rather the methylation of it, was found in greater volumes in PTSD patients than in those who had not experienced significant personal trauma. In addition to PTSD, estrogen and its resulting effects on HDAC4 may also be related to the expression of fear.
Although preliminary, the study’s findings suggest that estrogen may help protect some women from developing PTSD. Marla Ahlgrimm notes that, interestingly, estrogen has been found in previous studies to reduce pain perception.