Stressed out? No wonder you can’t remember…

Posted by on Sep 24, 2010 in estrogen, memory/learning | 7 comments

I have a friend on Twitter who coined the phrase “can’t remember shit.” This phrase greets me throughout the day because I am constantly forgetting even the simplest things. Why did I enter this room? What was I going to look up?  How did I get here? Why can’t I focus?  And lists? Fuggedaboutit – they don’t do squat; even when I have them, I forget.

I blame  my memory and focus problems on hormones all the time. However, if this were true, then the addition of hormones, in particular estrogen, would balance out the forgetting and boost my attention and focus, right?

Hence, I was intrigued when I ran across a small study in Menopause looking at cognition and stress, which seemed to back an earlier contention that stress plays a huge part in recall ability in menopausal women.

In this rather small trial, 22 postmenopausal women  (50 to 83 years) took either placebo or an estrogen tablet (1 mg estradiol daily for one month and then 2 mg daily for two months). After three months, they were asked to ingest a substance that depleted certain compounds (called monoamines) that the body manufactures and uses to stabilize mood, perform a mildly stressful test, and then undergo a series of tests on stress levels, mood, anxiety and cognition.

It appears that at least in this small group of women, taken estrogen was actually linked with poorer cognition following a stressful event, including the ability to recall words and slower reaction time. Because this occurred independently of the depletion of  mood compounds or negative mood, the researchers say that the effect of estrogen, which has been shown in some studies to improve cognition, is not as straightforward as previously believed. What’s more, the significant increase in stress and stress reactions during menopause may actually interfere with estrogen benefits in so far as memory and recall go.

Our lives are increasingly busier, especially now that we can be connected 24/7. Personally, I can’t even get a work out into my day without some sort of interruption. That’s why it’s so important to figure out  how hormones interact with stress, so that we can make informed decisions — not only about menopausal decisions — but also about general life decisions.

Look, memory recall and attention are undoubtedly linked to aging, at least to some extent. But now? Stress may be playing a role in how hormones impact our reactions, focus and attention span, and memory. So the next time you can’t remember shit? Maybe a few deep breaths can help.

No wonder!


  1. 9-24-2010

    This is so me. 😉

    • 9-24-2010

      Danielle – I think it’s so “all of us!”

  2. 9-24-2010

    Oh, the dreaded CRS! I learned about it from my MIL about 20 years ago, and now I am living it!

    • 9-24-2010

      Living the dream, eh Marya?! It’s an interesting paradigm, isn’t it?!

  3. 9-24-2010

    You know what causes my memory lapses more than anything? MULTITASKING. I end up not doing anything 100 percent, and not being able to remember what I did. Amazingly,when I slow down and really put all my concentration into something, it (usually) works wonders.When you really think about it, multitasking IS a tad stressful, now isn’t it?

    • 9-24-2010

      That is also true Sheryl. Of us all I’m afraid. But I think this almost adds to it, making the result even worse!

  4. 9-25-2010

    Yes our lives are increasingly busier ..Check out the New Wonder 2010 Michael W Smith’s Latest Offering , 2010 to destress 😀


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