2002-12-14 / Columnists

Health and Harmony

Motherhood Makes Women Smarter
By Dr. Nancy Gahles

By Dr. Nancy Gahles

Motherhood Makes Women Smarter

Motherhood may make women smarter and may help prevent dementia in old age by bathing the brain in protective hormones, University of Richmond psychology professor Craig Kinsley reported.

Tests on rats show that those who raise two or more litters of pups do significantly better in tests of memory and skills than those who have no

babies, and their brains show changes that suggest they may be protected against diseases such as Alzheimer's. Kinsley believes that his findings will translate to humans.

"Our research shows that the hormones of pregnancy are protecting the brain, including estrogen, which we know has many neuroprotective effects," Kinsley said. He said that he hoped that these preliminary findings would spur on public health officials and researchers to continue studies along these lines. "When people think about pregnancy, they think about what happens to infants and the mother from the waist down", said Kinsly, who presented his findings to the annual meeting of the Society of Neuroscience in Orlando, Florida.

"They do not realize that hormones are washing the brain. If you look at female animals who have never gone through pregnancy, they act differently towards young. But if she goes through pregnancy, she will sacrifice her life for her infant - that is a tremendous change in behavior that manifested in genetic alterations to the brain."

Kinsley's team tested rats that had never had a litter of pups, had raised one litter, or had raised two or more litters. The rats were given two tests involving food inside and outside the maze. They were retested several times over two years.

"Females who had two reproductive experiences were able to learn and remember the maze better than females with one or zero", Kinsey said. "Females with zero were not able to do the maze as well as females with one pregnancy."

A look at the brains of the rats post-mortem revealed changes in the hippocampus, the part of the brain associated with learning and memory. The rats that had several pregnancies had lower levels of a protein called amyloid precursor protein - which, in humans, is associated with the development of Alzheimer's.

He needs to do more tests but believes the effect may be even stronger in human females who invest time and effort in raising offspring. Humans also have the "grandmother effect," older women in many societies play a role in the upbringing of the children thereby giving the children an added benefit from having a grandmother who engages their faculties.

Kinsley became interested in this topic while watching his wife in the stressful first year of parenting.

"Watching her and how her behavior became more efficient during this time got me thinking about the links between maternal behavior and maternal efficiency," he said. "Nature seems to provide the mother with a boost to enable her to care, long term, for the most important and costly genetic and metabolic investment she will ever make - her offspring." (Reuters, Maggie Fox, Washington, Nov.7).

So, Ladies, we have finally been recognized for our major contribution to the planet. In the future, when multi-tasking becomes overwhelming and I can't seem to remember my own name, I will never utter those words again, "baby brain dead". Now I will simply call it "hippocampus overload".

May The Blessings Be!

>For information about this article , e-mail me at askDrNancy@aol.com


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