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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Health Note: Brains on Estrogen

Air Date: Week of May 31, 2002

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Living on Earth’s Jessica Penney reports on research that suggests estrogen may play a role in problem-solving abilities.

Transcript

CURWOOD: Coming up, why dealing with drought is a perennial problem in the U.S. Southwest. First, this environmental Health Note from Jessica Penney.



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PENNY: A new study suggests that as women age, their brains might be developing different ways of thinking. That’s because researchers at the University of Illinois say that estrogen, or the lack thereof, may dictate what strategy the brain uses to solve problems.



The scientists took young female rats and removed their ovaries so they would produce no estrogen of their own. They gave half of these rats estrogen injections, and left the others estrogen-free. Then they compared the two groups’ abilities to find food in two different mazes.



In maze one, the food was always in the same place. But the rat started at different points in the maze each time, so they had to travel in different directions to find the reward. In maze two, the food moved around, but the rats always had to make a right turn to find it. The rats with no estrogen did better in this maze. But the rats with estrogen were much better in the maze where the food was always in the same place.



The scientists think the hormone may alter particular regions of the brain, giving an edge to some ways of problem solving, while hindering others. If this study is applicable to women going through menopause, it may show that while some of their problem solving abilities can deteriorate, other abilities may be strengthened. That this week’s Health Note. I’m Jessica Penney.



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CURWOOD: And you’re listening to Living on Earth.



[MUSIC: Air, "Playground Love," VIRGIN SUICIDES (sndtrk) (Astralwerks – 2000)]

 

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