Major Life Events
Although the brain’s most extreme changes occur before the age of 25 and in old age, there are pivotal events or periods in your life, which can alter the hormonal balance of your brain, both temporarily and permanently. Because of the strength of the brain–body connection, as our bodies go through physical changes this can also trigger shifts in our brain’s hormonal makeup. Some examples of these period in our life include childbirth, menopause or its male counterpart andropause.
Pregnancy, childbirth and the first months of motherhood is a time of significant change, both physically and mentally. During childbirth the brain of a mother produces increased levels of oxytocin, the attachment hormone. Immediately following childbirth oxytocin is at its highest, creating a feeling of euphoria and strengthening the bond between mother and baby. Furthermore, a study from 2010 looking at brain scans of women before and after they gave birth showed that a mother’s brain was larger immediately after giving birth compared to before birth. Those mothers who responded more enthusiastically to their child and motherhood showed the greatest growth in parts of their brain, including the prefrontal cortex, parietal lobes, and midbrain area, which is associated with maternal motivation, rewards and emotional regulation. What researchers found suggested that the brain physically changes to encourage maternal behaviours in the first months of motherhood.
All women will go through the menopause and it signifies not just a change to the body, but to the brain as well, and that can have long lasting effects on health. Levels of the hormone oestrogen rise and fall which impacts the rest of the body including the chemical balance of your brain, which can lead to mood swings and even memory loss. Concentrating on your overall brain health is especially important during the menopause to counteract this emotional imbalance. This includes eating the right nutrients and vitamins, prioritising exercise and sleep, and reducing your stress where possible.
Whilst most people are aware of menopause, few people know anything about andropause, the male equivalent. During andropause men experience changes to their hormonal balance, (just as women do with the menopause), most notably a decline in levels of testosterone. Due to testosterone’s correlation with confidence this can often lead to self-esteem issues and even depression, alongside physical symptoms such as tiredness and sexual challenges. Levels of testosterone can be tested with a simple blood test and supplements can be prescribed if symptoms are severe. A slowing down of testosterone can also result in more balanced decision-making as well as more stable relationships and family lives.
Other Information and Advice
This female hormone plays an important role from conception to delivery to breast feeding.
Scientists have been able to see significant brain changes from before to during and after menopause.
NHS information and advice on symptoms and issues associated with the 'male menopause'.
Scientists have discovered the secret behind how breastfeeding helps mothers bond with their babies.
Scientists find that mothers with high levels of oxytocin during pregnancy bond better with their babies