Study: Women and men differ in reactions to stress, suggesting women have 'anti-stress' hormone

Wednesday, November 14th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

SAN DIEGO (AP) _ A study has found young women are better able to cope with stress than young men, leading researchers to suggest there may be such a thing as a female ``anti-stress'' hormone.

German researchers said Tuesday they found differences in the way men and women fared on a memory test given to a small group of college students after they experienced stress.

Men with higher levels of cortisol, a hormone produced during stress, recalled fewer words than males with lower levels. No such correlation was found in women.

The study was presented this week at the Society for Neuroscience's annual meeting in San Diego.

In an earlier experiment, the study's lead author, Dr. Oliver Wolf of the University of Dusseldorf, found the reverse was true among the elderly: Older men handled stress better than older, postmenopausal women.

Wolf said the results suggest the importance of estradiol, the principal estrogen produced by a woman's ovaries. During menopause, the menstrual cycle stops and the production of estrogen drops dramatically.

Both studies ``point toward a potential role of the female sex hormone estradiol as an anti-stress hormone,'' he said.

The studies also imply that estrogen replacement therapy might safeguard women from stress.

Experts said the latest study draws attention to a field scientists are just beginning to explore.

``This is the first time that we have seen this result so precisely,'' said Dr. Enrico Alleva of Italy's national health institute, who was attending the conference.

In the study, Wolf tested 58 college students ages 20 to 30 on how well they recalled a word list after a brief delay.

Before they were given the list, students were required to speak for five minutes before a ``grim-looking committee'' and then had to count backward from 2,043 in steps of 17.