Can uterus control the brain too?

A study shows that hysterectomy causes memory loss in patients

By SA Gayatri
Last Updated: Friday 07 December 2018
The findings suggest that the uterus might have functions beyond reproduction. Credit: Getty Images
The findings suggest that the uterus might have functions beyond reproduction. Credit: Getty Images The findings suggest that the uterus might have functions beyond reproduction. Credit: Getty Images

Hysterectomy could be linked to memory loss and cognitive impairment, according to a study conducted on rats. Removing the uterus surgically is often linked to symptoms similar to menopause, according to a study by Arizona State University.

The study was carried out on female rats, which were divided into four groups. The rats in one group had their uterus removed, but ovaries left intact; the second group had their ovaries removed, but the uterus left intact; the third had both the uterus and ovaries removed while the last group underwent a sham surgery in which no reproductive organ was removed.

Six weeks later the researchers taught the rats to navigate a maze and tested their memory capacities. The team found that the rats which had only their uterus removed could not handle the increased memory load.

"The surgical removal of just the uterus had a unique and negative effect on working memory, or how much information the rats were able to manage simultaneously," says Stephanie Koebele, a student of psychology at the university and first author on the research paper, published December 6 in Endocrinology journal. 

This study is the first of its kind which links the uterus to brain function by using a rat model of hysterectomy to show its effect on cognitive abilities, including memory and thinking skills. 

Impact in India 

Findings of the study suggest uterus might have functions beyond reproduction. This puts a question mark on the large number of needless surgeries done on women in India.  

Only 3.2 per cent of Indian women (aged 15-49) underwent hysterectomy, according to the National Family Health Survey 2015-2016. But in some states such as Telangana and Andhra Pradesh the rate was as high as 47 per cent and 42 per cent respectively.

Recently, Karnataka Janaarogya Chaluvali (KJC), a people’s movement for health and healthcare rights reported that doctors often mislead Dalit women to get hysterectomies done. Often, professional unscrupulousness and pro-private healthcare policies are implicated in such hysterectomies.

"Rural women often undergo this surgery more than urban women. They use this as a method of contraception. Often their families force them to undergo this surgery," says Preeti Dhillon, Professor of population studies and demographics, International Institute for Population Sciences, in Mumbai. 

"We have seen that the women who undergo such surgeries often become mentally unbalanced and are asked to consult psychiatrists. I think that the research can be true and the government and researchers should study this link further," says Bharat Narayan, empowerment and health officer at Vidya Ranya, a Bengaluru-based non-governmental organisation working to empower women.

(SA Gayatri is an intern with Down To Earth)

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