The Women's Brain Book: The neuroscience of health, hormones and happiness

The Women's Brain Book: The neuroscience of health, hormones and happiness

by Dr Sarah McKay


View All Available Formats & Editions


Understanding how the brain grows and changes through the stages of life is key to health and wellbeing. This is not a book about the differences between male and female brains, nor a book using neuroscience to explain gender-specific behaviours, the 'battle of the sexes' or 'Mars-Venus' stereotypes. This is a book about what happens inside the brains and bodies of women as they move through the phases of life, and the unique - and often misunderstood - effects of female biology and hormones.

Dr McKay give insights into brain development during infancy, childhood and the teenage years (including the onset of puberty) and also takes a look at mental health as well as the ageing brain. The book weaves together findings from the research lab, case studies and interviews with neuroscientists and other researchers working in the disciplines of neuroendocrinology, brain development, brain health and ageing.

This comprehensive guide explores the brain during significant life stages, including:
In utero
The Menstrual Cycle
The Teenage Brain
Depression and Anxiety
Pregnancy and Motherhood
The Ageing Brain

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780733638527
Publisher: Hachette Australia
Publication date: 05/21/2019
Pages: 320
Product dimensions: 6.12(w) x 9.25(h) x 1.25(d)

About the Author

Dr Sarah McKay is an Oxford-educated, respected neuroscientist and the founder of the Neuroscience Academy. She specialises in translating brain science research into simple, actionable strategies for peak performance, creativity, health and wellbeing. She writes for numerous publications and has been published extensively for the professional audience.

Table of Contents

Introduction 1

On being the owner and operator of a woman's brain 1

Where is all the women's health neuroscience research? 3

How different are the differences between male and female brains? 7

Nature, nurture or neuroplasticity? 11

Your plastic mosaic brain 12

A disclaimer 13

1 In Utero 17

The Great Sperm Race 17

Implanting the egg 18

The case of the neural tube is not yet closed 19

You were destined to be female 20

Ovaries develop in the absence of the Y male chromosome 22

Sex hormones organise reproductive regions of the prenatal brain 24

What is the role of oestrogen in female brain development? 25

Joining the dots from brain to behaviour 25

How to build a brain 28

The birth of new brain cells 30

Zika virus disrupts brain cell migration 32

Half of all neurons are born to die 33

Molecules guide axons to their targets 34

Synapses are miniature zones of communication 35

Use it or lose it 35

The first 1000 days of brain development 36

Worrying about worry 36

The Montreal ice Storm Study 37

A newborn brain is a rough draft ready for editing 39

2 Childhood 40

Brain development from birth to adulthood 41

Taking a closer look at white and grey matter 42

Brain architecture is built by early experiences 45

Young brains are plastic brains 45

Opening and closing sensitive periods 47

Language acquisition in children - from universalist to specialist 48

Deprivation during the first year - a critical period for language 51

Toxic stress in childhood leaves lasting effects on the brain 53

Another 'natural experiment' - the Christchurch earthquakes 54

Are resilient children born or made? 57

Experiences of gender 57

Boys and girls go out to play 58

Hormones and the 'mini puberty' of infancy 60

Gender stereotypes begin before birth 61

Why do expectations of gender matter? 63

What do growing brains need to thrive? 64

3 Puberty 67

First puberty 69

The HPO axis - how the brain and body talk puberty 71

Awakening the biological clock 72

Awakening the clock with a genetic KISS 74

Is puberty starting at younger ages? 76

What are the causes of early-but-normal puberty? 77

Mood changes at puberty 79

Normal moods or a mental health problem? 81

How does puberty shape the brain? 82

4 The Menstrual Cycle 83

Our personal monthly neuroscience experiment 84

Attitudes to menstruation matter 85

The neural control of menstruation 85

How do hormones get inside the brain? 87

Imaging the effects of hormones on the brain 88

Does the menstrual cycle change how we feel? 89

Does the menstrual cycle change how we think? 90

PMS, mood and the menstrual cycle 93

Is PMS a modern-day myth? 94

Premenstrual Dysmorphic Disorder 98

Does the pill cause depression? 99

What happens to your brain on the pill? 102

5 The Teenage Brain 106

Halfway between girlhood and womanhood 107

The stereotype of the teenage brain is wrong 108

The teenage brain is still undergoing development 109

Grey matter thins as connections are refined 110

More white matter enables faster communication 111

Subcortical brain areas shrink and grow 111

The social brain develops during adolescence 112

Teenage brains join a new tribe 112

The painful consequences of being left out 113

Why does rejection hurt so badly? 115

The 'emotional adolescent' is developmentally normal 116

Learning to regulate emotions 117

Is mental illness emotional development gone wrong? 118

Risk-taking and the mismatch between thinking and feeling 119

Do girls take risks? 120

The imaginary audience - who is watching me? 121

Adolescence is a unique window of opportunity for education 123

6 Depression and Anxiety 125

Why is there a gender gap in depression and anxiety? 127

Depression - the basics 128

Anxiety - the basics 129

Enduring mental wellbeing is rare 130

What does a depressed brain look like? 133

Do depressed brains work differently from healthy brains? 135

Is depression caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain? 136

Is there a gene for depression? 139

Is the depression gender gap due to sex hormones? 141

Oestrogen may improve mood 141

Progesterone may exacerbate anxiety and PTSD 142

The inner mean girl 146

Depression is a stress-related disorder 147

How does a stressful event get under our skin? 147

The neurobiology of stress 148

Is depression due to inflammation? 150

Stress and gender issues 152

You're depressed or anxious - now what? 153

Not all treatments work for all people all of the time 153

7 Sex, Love and Neurobiology 155

Adolescence is a sensitive period for learning about sex 156

The alchemy of attraction 157

How hormones influence mate choice and sex drive 159

Feeling frisky on oestrogen 160

Let's talk about sexual response cycles 161

Turning on the 'ONs' and turning off the 'OFFs' 163

Where are the brain's ON and OFF switches? 164

Can drugs be used to hit the sexual accelerator or brake? 165

Testosterone - does it really boost libido in women? 166

Mating in captivity - are you just bored? 168

Sexual orientation and the brain 169

The neurobiology of orgasms 171

This is her brain during orgasm 173

The neurobiology of multiple orgasms 175

Are female orgasms just a happy accident? 176

Can we become addicted to love? 177

Oxytocin - one molecule to love and bond us all? 178

Oxytocin - what we've learned from the monogamous prairie vole 179

Social support buffers stress because of oxytocin 181

Is oxytocin the new love potion? 182

8 Pregnancy and Motherhood 185

Pregnancy leads to long-lasting changes in women's brains 186

The expectant rodent brain 190

Your expectant brain and hormones of pregnancy 192

Prolactin - the quintessential hormone of pregnancy and parenting 194

Prolactin, hunger and resisting the urge to eat for two 195

Pregnant women are less reactive to stress 197

Is 'baby brain' a myth? 199

Are labour pains needed for brain gains? 204

This is why babies cry 206

This is your brain on breastfeeding 208

Breastfeeding and the neural control of fertility 211

Depression and motherhood 212

The baby blues 213

Depression and the myths of motherhood 214

Once a mother, always a mother 215

9 Menopause 217

A quick guide to the stages of menopause 219

Why do we go through menopause? 221

Are your menopause symptoms all in your head? 222

This is your brain on hot flashes 223

Hormones warm us up and cool us down 225

This is your brain on disrupted sleep 226

A quick guide to the neurobiology of sleep 227

Sex differences in sleep 228

Which comes first - hormones, hot flashes or sleep problems? 231

This is your brain on the menopausal blues 232

This is your brain on 'brain fog' 233

Is it 'brain fog' or dementia? 235

Will you 'suffer' or 'sail' through menopause? 236

Hormone therapy for menopause 238

A quick history of HRT 238

Fear, loathing and women's health studies 240

Weighing up the risks and benefits of HRT 243

Does HRT cause or prevent dementia? 246

Mind the gap of midlife 248

10 The Ageing Brain 249

Uncovering the secrets of exceptional longevity 251

Are the exceptionally old also exceptionally happy and healthy? 255

Predicting who will reach 100 257

Why do women live longer than men? 260

The influence of biological sex on the lifespan 262

The influence of reproductive history on the lifespan 263

Is dementia a women's brain health problem? 266

Dementia - humanity's brain health problem 267

What is dementia? How does it differ from Alzheimer's disease? 269

Memory loss with ageing is normal 270

Stuck in the moment with dementia 271

Taking a closer look at the ageing brain 273

Proof of principle - using lifestyle change to slow disease 275

How to nurture a healthy brain for life 278

The best exercise for your brain is physical exercise 279

What type of physical exercise is best? 279

Eat real food, not too much, mostly plants 279

Get more sleep 281

Challenge your mind 281

Find your place or moment of calm 282

Connect with family and friends 283

Seek out meaning and purpose 283

Is it ever too late to hope for change? 284

Acknowledgements 287

Notes 289

Customer Reviews