The impact of hormones on your mind
Researchers believe oestrogen may have a role in midlife brain changes women can experience. They know the hormone affects your memory (1) and cognitive function (2), and wildly fluctuating levels during the menopause may explain that foggy thinking you’ve noticed.
Interestingly, neuroscientist and women’s health expert Dr Lisa Mosconi has shown that menopause directly affects your brain structure and energy (3).
She says: ‘We associate menopause with the ovaries. But when women say that they're having hot flashes, night sweats, insomnia, memory lapses, depression, anxiety, those symptoms don't start in the ovaries. They start in the brain.’
If you’re experiencing brain changes in midlife, know you’re not alone. One study found that 60% of women in menopause reported symptoms of brain fog (4), including difficulty concentrating and problems with memory function.
Why have I got brain fog?
It’s not clear why some women experience brain function changes during menopause and others don’t.
However, it seems brain fog may be connected with other symptoms like sleep disturbances and hot flashes (5). In addition, the more anxious you feel, the more likely you are to experience foggy thinking (6).
Jen Gunter, obstetrician, gynaecologist and author, describes the impact menopause has on your mind in her book The Menopause Manifesto. She compares hormonal brain changes to uploading a new computer programme, and the occasional glitches associated with it: ‘After all, both computer code and hormones are forms of language.’
The good news? Like any glitches in a new computer software, your confusion and memory issues will resolve. Brain fog is almost always temporary (7), and you can look forward to your clarity of thinking returning post-menopause.
It seems that changing oestrogen levels may alter how your neurons (the fundamental units of your brain and nervous system) use glucose (8) – their main form of energy.
Glucose metabolism is vital for healthy brain function, so when it’s interrupted, it may affect your memory, recall and processing.
In a conversation with TED radio (9), Dr Mosconi explained: ‘At the cellular level, oestrogen literally pushes neurons to burn glucose to make energy. If your oestrogen is high, your brain energy is high.
‘When your oestrogen declines, though, your neurons start slowing down and age faster. For women, brain energy is usually fine before menopause, but then it gradually declines during the transition.
And this was found independent of age. It didn't matter if the women were 40, 50 or 60. What mattered most was that they were in menopause.’
What’s just as interesting, and may explain the short-term nature of menopausal brain fog, is that the brain seems to be able to compensate for this shift in oestrogen over time. Your body adjusts to post-menopausal changes, and so does your mind.
Protect your grey matter
There’s plenty of ways to help protect your brain health in menopause and beyond, and eating a healthy diet is one of them.
Research shows that people who eat a Mediterranean diet have a much lower risk of not only memory loss, but depression, heart disease and cancer (10). The high presence of foods with high levels of b vitamins from leafy green vegetables, omegas from fish, seeds and grains and phytoestrogens (oestrogen from plant sources that behave like mild oestrogen in our bodies that you can find in flaxseeds, the legume family as well as some fruits and vegetables), can have a big impact on brain function and mood. The absence of highly processed, sugary food helps too - as saturated fats and refined sugar are shown to increase the risk of poor cognitive function as we age (11).
Knowledge is power
Over the last few years, the female brain has started to receive the attention – and research – it deserves. From adolescence to end of life, your female hormones mean your brain behaves differently to male brains.
It’s these discoveries that mean we have a greater understanding of how the female brain changes in menopause. And although memory loss and confusion is alarming, there’s no need to panic about the long-term effects on your brain.
With the right support, your brain health will bounce back and you’ll be thinking clearly again in no time.
With love from,
Rebekah & The MPowder Team.
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