Sex hormones and their cognitive functions
What are sex hormones?
Sex hormones are hormones that affect and regulate sexual development and reproduction in mammals. In most primates, sexual hormones regulate the motivation of engaging in sexual intercourse rather than affecting the primate’s sexual ability.
Sex hormones are classified as male sex hormones and female sex hormones. While both kinds are present in every human body, the level of the hormones differs, thus instilling masculine or feminine traits to an individual.
Testosterone is the hormone that is responsible for sexual motivation in male primates. It is essential to remember that the elimination of testosterone hormone in males does not reduce or diminish the individual’s sexual ability to copulate. Rather, it decreases the motivation to engage in any sexual activity. Androgen, like testosterone, is responsible for the development of the male sex organ. During mammalian developments, the gonads are capable of either becoming testicles or ovaries. After six weeks, the developing gonads are completely taken over by male sex cord.
Estrogen is the primary sexual hormone in female mammals. It is chiefly responsible for development and regulation of the female reproductive system and secondary female traits in mammals. Estrogen is derived from the Greek word ‘oistros,’ literally meaning verve or inspiration and the suffix ‘gen,’ meaning ‘producer of.’
In both men and women, estrogen regulates at a lower level than androgen, but the level of estrogen is relatively lower in males than females. Nevertheless, estrogen plays a vital role in men’s physiological well-being and development.
How do they affect our body?
Sexual hormones are responsible for the development of primary as well as secondary sexual characteristics in our bodies. Testosterone helps in healthy sperm development in the male genitals while estrogen develops the female gonad sites. Testosterone activates the genes present in the Sertoli Cells, which result in promoting the differentiation of the spermatogonia. Androgen, like Testosterone, also promotes muscle development and growth. Testosterone has also been known to aid humans in platelet aggregation because of its regulating action on the population of Thromboxane A2 receptors present in platelets.
Estrogen is synthesized in all vertebrates, but what is interesting is that the hormone has also been found in some insects that prove that estrogens have a long evolutionary history. Like all steroid hormones in our body, Estrogen quickly diffuses across the cell membrane. Once inside, the hormones bind themselves to Estrogen receptors, activating receptors like mERs and GPR30.
Apart from the development of secondary female characteristic, Estrogens is responsible for muscle growth, accelerated metabolism, uterine growth, thickening of the vaginal wall and maintenance of vaginal vessels and skin. Estrogen also increases cholesterol level in the bile while reducing bowel motility.
Sex hormones and cognitive function
Cognition is the mental process of knowledge acquisition and understanding through thoughts, experience and senses. Many naturally occurring hormones have been found to affect a person’s cognitive abilities directly and through thought process. Hormones, such as Estrogen and Androgen, have been studied extensively for their effect on our mind and psychology.
- Menopausal women have reported symptoms of memory failure and sleeping disorders due to a fall in the estrogen levels of their body.
- A reduction in hormonal levels also triggers stress, hot flashes and mood swings, which prove that the female sex hormone has a direct impact on the cognitive behavior of women.
- Estrogen also protects the neurons, which have a direct effect on the memory and retention power.
- Testosterone has been known to affect visual and verbal memories in males.
- Men with higher testosterone levels have been found to have better retention capabilities than men with lower testosterone.
- The gold standard of medical studies came to a conclusion that testosterone replacement improved certain kinds of brain function in older men. The study is still in its primary state and there isn’t much conclusive evidence regarding the benefits or the side effects of testosterone supplements.