It’s all in your head

DHED converts into estrogen in the brain. Image courtesy of the American Chemical Society's, Chemical & Engineering News.

DHED converts into estrogen in the brain.
Image courtesy of the American Chemical Society’s Chemical & Engineering News.

Who hasn’t felt the nerve-wrenching, boiling cauldron of fury that wells up when we hear that phrase?  After all, no one appreciates hearing something regarded as insensitive. Well, ladies, I have good news for you.  It IS in your head.  But, don’t get your “you-know-whats” twisted so quickly.  What I am about to share might change our lives in the near future—for so much the better.

This is not about a psychological process, but a chemical one.  Particularly, it is about the hormone estrogen, and what might be the beginnings of an innovative treatment for menopausal and post-menopausal women, and especially those who no longer own ovaries.  To date, the popular treatment method for our lack of estrogen is Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT), which carries with it a multitude of horror stories along with its benefits.   Estrogen is integral in many processes within our bodies—it helps heal muscle injury, protects bones, and several other healing/preventative maintenance issues.  But, for many women using HRT, long term side effects can be detrimental, even deadly, as it can increase risks for certain cancers.

Enter the latest findings on estrogen research.  Researchers have learned that the chemical DHED turns into estrogen in the brain in rodents, and does not become estrogen in the body.  This can be significant for scientists attempting to develop treatment for menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes and insomnia, that won’t also cause harmful side effects in organs throughout the body.  DHED is a compound that resembles estrogen in structure, but has an extra oxygen molecule.  A protein inside the brain literally cuts off the extra oxygen, creating a new estrogen molecule.  No other organ has this particular protein, so this process will not occur in the rest of the body.

Female rodents, whose ovaries had been removed, were studied.  These animals were genetically modified in order that certain tissues would light up when exposed to estrogen.   DHED caused estrogen to illuminate in the brains, but not in internal organs.  Additionally, the growth of breast cancer cells was not observed.  This is cause for hope.

In a rat’s brain (left), the chemical DHED (dark blue) is rapidly converted into the hormone estrogen (pale blue). But in the uterus (right), this transformation doesn’t happen. Credit: L. Prokai et al/Science Translational Medicine 2015

In a rat’s brain (left), the chemical DHED (dark blue) is rapidly converted into the hormone estrogen (pale blue). But in the uterus (right), this transformation doesn’t happen.
Credit: L. Prokai et al/Science Translational Medicine 2015 (Schwartz, 2015)

More research is necessary on the full effects of this DHED-turns-into-estrogen process.  One of the roadblocks stems from the fact that estrogen behaves a little differently in humans than in other mammals (Schwartz, 2015).  The results are not always similar between our species.  However, this does not lessen the hope for this to lead into a possible treatment down the road.

It will be exciting to see how this development unfolds.  What intrigues me most is that this is taking place in the brain, and nowhere else in the body.  It is literally all in the head.  And that can be a good thing, maybe. As a menopausal woman myself, due to radical hysterectomy, I am personally enthusiastic about a possible treatment that does not carry cancer risks, or whose risks are indeterminate (meaning they almost don’t exist).  I chose to reject HRT and opted for diet and herbal supplements as my treatment plan, and this decision was made based on the numerous reports of cancers caused by HRT.  This is a topic for another story, another day.  But with regards to the innovations coming up, I look forward with eager anticipation to being able to sleep through the night, and to have my body temperature regulated properly.

See also:

http://cen.acs.org/articles/93/web/2015/07/Prodrug-Delivers-Estrogen-Just-Brain.html

https://www.sciencenews.org/article/boosting-estrogen-only-brain?tgt=nr

http://stm.sciencemag.org/content/7/297/297ra113

References:

Schwartz, S. (2015). Boosting estrogen, only in the brain. ScienceNews.

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