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Endocrine effects on the brain and behavior

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The endocrine glands secrete hormones which are released directly into the bloodstream and are carried throughout the body.

The effect of hormones is much slower than that of neurotransmitters communicating steady, relatively unchanging, messages over prolonged periods of time such as during puberty.

Endocrine glands are ductless as opposed to exocrine glands such as tear ducts.

The major endocrine gland is the pituitary gland, which is only physically part of the brain situated just below the hypothalamus. It produces the largest number of different hormones and controls the secretion of several other endocrine glands.

The pituitary comprises two inependently functioning parts : the anterior and posterior. The former transmits hormones which are thought to be manufactured in the hypothalamus, while the latter is stimulated by the hypothalamus to produce it's own hormones. (extracts taken from (PSYCHOLOGY The Science of Mind and Behaviour - Richard D. Gross, part 2 of the Biological Basis of Behaviour and Experience - 2nd edition).

Here we will concentrate on the effects of the reproductive hormonal system, in particular the female menstrual cycle.

The female cycle and it's variant effects on the brain and subsequent behaviour isn't something to be scoffed at. The pre-menstrual phase can be a cause of moderate to distressful, even suicidal behaviour in certain individuals. Coupled with any neurological condition can lead to extreme distress at certain times of the month.

During informal discussions with females with pre-menstrual difficulties and women with pre-menstrual difficulties coupled with neurological disease, pre-existing minor to major difficulties were accentuated during this phase of the female cycle. For example a minor cluster headache problem may become something so debilitating during this phase, the woman may have to take time off work. If a woman suffers from epilepsy, she may have more intense seizures or more frequent seizures during this phase of her cycle.

The chain of events caused by the complicated workings of the endocrine system can have such a major knock on effect on brain and behaviour, be it through hormonal troubles such as PMS through to diabetes and many other endocrinal conditions, the results can be amazing to disastrous.

Hormones of the reproductive system in females and various resulting behaviours are as follows :-

Firstly the ovaries secrete 2 types of oestrogen and progesterone.

Oestrogen and progesterone are types of steroid having many effects on the body and thus the brain. As with certain other steroids, they diffuse into all cells.

Oestrogen is the main hormone associated with the sexual maturity of girls producing the development of breasts, the uterus and vagina. There is an increase of fat around certain areas of the body, particularly the hip area. There is a growth of pubic and ancillary hair, widening of the pelvis, menstruation, preparation for pregnancy and it's role in pregnancy.

Progesterone has many effects on the body. It has two main functions in the menstrual cycle in particular. It stops pregnancy occurring by causing thickening of the mucous at the neck of the womb, so sperm is unable to get in and it's second function is to make the glands lining the womb secrete a fluid to nourish a newly fertilised egg.

Females have a 28 day menstrual cycle in which a whole orchestra of hormones play their part, mainly oestrogen and progesterone. There can often be variance of 28 days, often according to the physical and emotional state of the female. This will be discussed later.

During the first few days of the cycle, bleeding occurs, then around the 8th to 14th day, an egg ripens and is released from the ovary each month, known as 'ovulation'. The egg travels along the fallopian tube during the rest of the cycle and the lining of the uterus thickens. if the egg enters the uterus unfertilised, the uterus lining falls away with the unfertilised egg, this is known as menstruation or a 'period'.

Changes in behaviour occur previous to the start of menstruation as the female begins to develop into a woman. Moods change rapidly, becoming sexually attracted to boys (or other females) can cause cause massive emotional upset and resulting various behaviours. The young woman still has childlike ways but adult emotions to an extent and both produce a terrible mixture.

Young girls are maturing physically much faster these days but are still too young to cope with the emotional side of producing adult sexual hormones and the feelings/behaviour they produce. Infact it is only as a woman reaches her late 20's or 30's that she produces a hormone in more abundance known as 'oxytocin' the settling down, loving hormone, a hormone which women produce in vast quantities when they have a child. This contributes to the overwhelming love they feel for a child when it's born, though in some cases, this feeling doesn't occur and is known as 'Post Natal Depression' which is again most likely a result of hormone problems, emotional problems, both or a variety of causes etc which result in depression and it's subsequent behaviour. During the 30's and 40's in years women tend to feel more comfortable and able to cope not only because they are more settled in their personal lives and the choices they've made but also because of their raised oxytocin levels. However, unless they are unfortunate enough to suffer one of the many states of emotional behviours brought about by the physical changes of the menstrual cycle, they will not be so comfortable.

The majority will complain that in the few days leading up to their period, they'll have at least one or two symptoms out of at least 150 documented negative symtoms. Some are unfortunate enough to suffer many of these symptoms leading to accentuated problems which already exist be they physical or emotional, infact women have committed suicide during this phase of the month.

It would be always be worth considering when assessing a female patient with certain emotional problems which come and go, that she fill out a 3 month assessment sheet of pre-menstrual symptoms and examine the changes during these 3 months in the female. Sypmtoms tend to disappear as soon as bleeding starts or there around.

Most women manage to carry on their life, even though they'll feel not so good during their pre-menstrual phase which normally would only last a few days but for some women, this phase in their cycle can be disasterous and can last for a full 2 weeks, perhaps longer.

PMS is now understood not to be psychological, although the effects can cause psychological problems, even baboons have been found to suffer pre-menstrual syndrome and tend to find solace during this time.

Anti-social behaviour, illness, clumsiness and depression are just a few of the symptoms that the pre-mentrual phase appears to be the cause of. Female students have problems getting on with their work, coping with exams, becoming forgetful etc.

Often a pre-disposition to a condition, perhaps aggression or depression can bcome greatly heightened at this time and as mentioned earlier, physical conditions can worsen, particularly neurological conditions, allergies, skin problems etc. for instance, the reproductive hormone 'oestrogen' is a pre-cursor to the function of dopamine. Oestrogen rises and falls during the falls during the menstrual cycle. Dopamine is partly responsible for movement, mood regulation and motivation among other things. Imagine, the impact of dopamine being affected by the changing levels of oestrogen.

Women maybe extra sensitive to changes to hormonal change and therefore changes in neurotransmitter activity. Some theories would suggest an imbalance in hormones but the general concensus now seems to be that the individual has heightened sensitivity to bodily changes. Women who suffer the effects of PMS have often also been found to suffer from other symptoms generally which worsen during the pre-mentrual phase to different extents.

The family suffers too. They don't know the best way to react. Children become moody as they pick up on the mother's condition.

--Autumnleaf 13:14, 9 July 2007 (UTC)



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