Brain health during the menopause

Menopause 6

Brain health during the menopause

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The menopause is a natural biological process that marks the end of a woman’s reproductive years, typically occurring in their 40s or 50s. During the menopause, the ovaries cease to release eggs and production of the hormones oestrogen and progesterone declines.

During menopause, the significant reduction in these sex hormones can impact a wide range of health aspects. Oestrogen in particular plays a pivotal role in the body, beyond its association with sexual characteristics and reproduction. It influences immune function, digestive health, cardiovascular health, blood sugar regulation, energy production, and brain function.

The brain’s role in menopause

Our brain is not immune to the effects of declining oestrogen levels. Oestrogen influences various brain functions, including cognitive abilities and mood. As we age and oestrogen levels decrease, we start experiencing a number of menopausal symptoms that are not confined to the reproductive system, but extend to the brain as well.

Dementia and women

With two out of every three Alzheimer’s cases affecting women, there is a shocking disproportionate impact of dementia on women. Cognitive decline in women is unique, often misdiagnosed or detected later, leading to under-recognition and delayed treatment. It’s important to emphasise the significance of understanding and addressing menopausal brain health for both women’s health and the wellbeing of those around them.

Understanding brain changes

To understand the impact of menopause on the brain, we can look at pre-menopausal and post-menopausal brain scans. These scans show us the differences in activity levels, with post-menopausal brains displaying decreased activity in certain areas. These changes reflect a physical response to the hormonal shifts in a woman’s body during menopause.

Symptoms of menopausal brain health

Menopausal brain health encompasses a range of symptoms that can affect daily life. These symptoms include:

  1. Brain fog and memory lapses: Many women report experiencing difficulties with memory and concentration.
  2. Low mood and depression: Changes in hormone levels can lead to mood swings and bouts of depression.
  3. Increased stress: The hormonal fluctuations during menopause can heighten stress levels, impacting overall wellbeing.
  4. Hot flushes and night sweats: These are the most recognisable menopausal symptoms, driven by the brain’s role in regulating temperature.

The impact of oestrogen on brain function

Oestrogen, a key player in the body’s energy metabolism, influences brain functions significantly and affects how the brain metabolises glucose, its energy source. The decline in oestrogen results in decreased energy production in the brain. Additionally, oestrogen receptors are present in various parts of the brain, making its role even more profound.

Taking control of brain health

Menopause marks a significant physiological change in a woman’s life, but doesn’t represent an enduring cognitive decline. The brain adapts to the reduced hormonal support, finding new ways to function efficiently. Therefore, our aim should be to empower women to understand these changes, address the symptoms, and take control of their brain health.

Diagnostic tests and screening

While there is no definitive blood test for perimenopause, hormone tests can provide valuable insights into a woman’s hormone levels. It’s essential to rule out other factors that could contribute to menopausal symptoms. In addition to hormone tests, consider screening for thyroid function, B vitamins, blood sugar levels and glucose levels, as imbalances in these areas can mimic menopausal brain symptoms.

Supporting brain health through diet and lifestyle

Diet plays a crucial role in supporting brain health during menopause. Here are some dietary and lifestyle strategies that can make a significant difference:

  1. Exercise: Engage in resistance and strength exercises to support oestrogen production and overall brain health.
  2. Sleep: Prioritise sleep, as it can alleviate menopausal symptoms and boost cognitive function.
  3. Stress management: Reducing stress is essential, as high stress levels can impact hormone production, including oestrogen and progesterone.
  4. Nutrition: Focus on a diet rich in essential nutrients, such as B vitamins, to support brain health and reduce symptoms like brain fog and depression.
  5. Blood sugar regulation: Maintain stable blood sugar levels through a balanced diet, which is particularly crucial during menopause when oestrogen’s role in glucose utilisation changes.

Menopausal brain health is a crucial aspect of a woman’s wellbeing, during this transitional and significant life phase. While menopause brings changes, understanding these shifts, seeking appropriate tests, and adopting a diet and lifestyle that supports brain health can make these changes smoother and more manageable.