Decreased sensitivity in the brain to estrogen may help explain menopausal changes

A new study suggests that agerelated changes in how the brain responds to the female sex hormone estrogen may be involved in a woman's transition through menopause. The study provides new clues about hormonal influences on hot flashes and night sweats experienced by some women in the menopause transition.

The findings are reported in the December 22/29, 2004, Journal of the American Medical Association* and are based on data from the Study of Women's Health Across the Nation (SWAN), a multi-site survey of women going through the menopause transition. This study is funded by the National Institutes of Health.

"Throughout a woman's reproductive life, there are not only age-related changes in estrogen levels, but also differences in how her body responds to given levels of estrogen. Researchers have been trying to understand how and why these changes take place," says Sherry Sherman, Ph.D., project director of the SWAN study, National Institute on Aging (NIA). "Hormone patterns found in this study could mean that, with age, a part of a woman's brain which regulates reproductive hormone levels may become less sensitive to estrogen. Other study findings suggest that the decreases in sensitivity can lead to significantly increased hot flashes and night sweats."

The analysis was led by Gerson Weiss, M.D., New Jersey Medical School at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ), who with his colleagues from the SWAN study reported the findings. UMDNJ is one of seven SWAN sites supported by the NIA, the National Institute of Nursing Research, and the Office of Research on Women's Health, all parts of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) at the Department of Health and Human Services.

SWAN follows more than 3,300 women, ages 42-52 at the beginning of the study in 1995, as they experience the changes associated with approaching menopause. The data for this report came from the Daily Hormone Study, a substudy that involve

Contact: Karin Kolsky
NIH/National Institute on Aging

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