Estrogen Makes You Smart

Okay, smart-er. That's the good part.

Pros: Estrogen is, says Eurekealert, "an elixir for the brain", capable of sharpening mental performance and a possible palliative for mental disorders like Alzheimer's and Schizophrenia.

Con: Long-term estrogen therapy of the kind prescribed to menopausal women may increase the risks of cancer, heart disease and stroke.

The good news: Researchers at Northwestern just may have figured out how to isolate the benefits. Says Deepak Srivastava, a research assistant professor in neuroscience at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, "We created more sites that could allow for more communication between the cells...We are building more bridges so more information can go from one cell to another." While it's early days yet, it's been shown that estrogen therapy — an increase in dendritic spines — has improved mental performance on both humans and animals. And since Alzheimer's, schizophrenia, depression and other cognitive are characterized by a diminution of dendritic spines, this is a Good Thing.

Read all about it here, but the takeaway? Cautious optimism. Says Nick Brandon, head of psychiatry at Pfizer,

We are very excited by the emerging data in this area. There is a great deal of literature and precedent for a role of estrogen and estrogen signaling in major mental illnesses. This adds to our understanding of the specific neuronal functions.

Why Estrogen Makes You Smarter [Eurekalert]

Estrogen Multiplies Synapses Between Neurons [Softpedia]