The idea that females are more resilient than males in responding to stress is a popular view, and now researchers claims to have found a scientific explanation.
Scientists from the University at Buffalo say their study show females rats respond better to repeat stress than male rats because females carry more estrogen. Males rats under stress were more likely to have short-term memory problems.
"Estrogen produced in the brain protects against the detrimental effects of stress," explains senior author and medical professor Zhen Yan, whose team published their findings in Molecular Psychiatry.
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The researchers put rats through a number of experiments that mimic challenging and stressful experiences humans face, which cause feelings of frustration and pressure.
They discovered that female rats exposed to one week of periodic physical restraint showed no impairment in their ability to remember and recognize objects they had previously been shown. By contrast, young male rats exposed to the same stress were impaired in their short-term memory.
The researchers also manipulated the levels of estrogen in both the male and females to see if their responses to stress changed. Sure enough, it did. More estrogen in males led to a greater ability to cope with stress, and less estrogen in females led to a decreased ability to cope with stress.
Also see: Does stress make you less attractive?
"When estrogen signaling in the brains of females was blocked, stress exhibited detrimental effects on them," says Yan. "When estrogen signaling was activated in males, the detrimental effects of stress were blocked.
Yan and her colleagues claim to have pinpointed the enzyme responsible for increased estrogen in female brains. Greater amounts of the emzyme aromatase, which produces estrogen, was found in the prefrontal cortex region of female rat brains. Specifically, the glutamate receptor in the prefrontal cortex of females is what remains intact during times of stress.
The study was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health of the National Institutes of Health.
What are your thoughts on how women and men respond to stress? Have you noticed a difference?