Researchers Found Connections Between Women Age Of Last Pregnancy And Mental Sharpness Post Menopause

First Posted: Nov 21, 2016 03:10 AM EST

A new study may explain why some women stay mentally alert after they have gone through menopause. The study claims that women who had their baby after the age of 35 used hormonal contraceptive for more than 10 years or started their menstrual cycle before turning 13 may have better brainpower after menopause.

According to Deccan Herald, this is the first study to investigate the link between age at last pregnancy, which is considered a marker of a later surge of pregnancy-related hormones, and cognitive function in later life, said Roksana Karim, assistant professor at the University of Southern California in the U.S.

"Based on the findings, we would certainly not recommend that women wait until they are 35 to close their family, but the study provides strong evidence that there is a positive association between later age at last pregnancy and late-life cognition," said Karim.

It was also reported that postmenopausal women who were last pregnant after the age of 35 had better verbal memory. The study also revealed that those who had their first pregnancy at the age of 24 or older had significantly better executive function, which includes attention control, working memory, reasoning and problem solving.

It was also mentioned that the main hormones responsible are estrogen and progesterone. During a study on animals, estrogen was found to have a beneficial effect on brain chemistry, function and structure, while progesterone was associated with growth and development of brain tissue, Karim said.

EurekAlert also reported that the study consisted of 830 women who had an average age of 60 years old. Other factors such as age, race and ethnicity, income and education were also considered. Participants of the study were given a series of tests including assessments of verbal memory, which required them to remember a list of words or retell a story after some distraction, their psychomotor speed, attention and concentration, planning, visual perception and memory were also assessed.

According to the findings of the study, other reproductive events were also important to later life cognition. More time between first and last period, longer reproductive life, also proved valuable for executive function. "Starting your period early means you have higher levels of the female sex hormone being produced by the ovaries," Karim said.

"Girls are receiving the optimal levels early, so it is possible that their brain structures are better developed compared to those who are exposed to estrogen levels associated with menstrual cycles at a later age," she added.

It is also important to note that the use of pills or other hormonal contraceptives for at least 10 years was also identified to be beneficial for verbal memory and critical thinking ability. Karim explained that oral contraceptives maintain and sustain a stable level of sex hormones in the blood stream.

Meanwhile, women who did not carry their pregnancy to term and those who gave birth to two children had a better overall cognitive ability, verbal memory and executive function compared to women who had only one full-term pregnancy.

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