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HOW MENOPAUSE AFFECTS THE BRAIN

Women are more likely to be diagnosed with anxiety than men

The main focus around any conversation regarding menopause is usually hormone health and the effect that reducing levels of estrogen have on a woman’s body.

A lot of research is taking place on women’s brain health and how it is affected during menopause – this work is mainly being done by Dr Lisa Mosconi who is a Professor of Neuroscience and is actively researching ways to protect and sustain the female brain.

Research shows that women are more likely than men to be diagnosed with an anxiety order or depression as well as being more prone to headaches and migraines. Our brains age differently and menopause plays a key role for women.

We know that hormones differ between the genders – men have more testosterone and women have more estrogen. These hormones differ in their longevity. Men’s testosterone doesn’t run out until much later in life and and is a slow and mainly symptom free process. Women’s estrogen starts fading in midlife during menopause and is associated with varying symptoms. Estrogen is not only involved in reproduction but also in brain function. It is really vital for energy production in the brain.

Brain anatomoy of menopause

  • Hypothalmus – regulates body temperature and when estrogen doesn’t activate this part of the brain correctly, the result can be hot flushes.
  • Brain stem – in charge of sleep and wake times – when estrogen doesn’t activate it, the result can be problems with sleeping.
  • Amygdala – emotional centre of the brain – when estrogen starts to ebb, mood swings can occur.
  • Hippocampus – memory centre of the brain – when estrogen levels are dropping, forgetfulness can happen.

Women’s brains in midlife are more sensitive to hormonal ageing than just normal chronological ageing.

How do we protect our brain?

The factors that we need to look at to support our hormones and their effects on the brain include diet choices, exercise, sleep and how we deal with stress.

The Mediterranean Diet, in particular, is supportive of women’s health – research shows that following this diet means there is a much lower risk of cognitive decline, depression, heart disease, stroke and also fewer hot flushes.

The diet is rich in foods that contain phytoestrogens from plants which mimic estrogen in the body and include flaxseeds, sesame seeds, chickpeas, legumes, berries and dark chocolate.

It is also important to be aware of things that suppress our estrogens especially stress. Cortisol is the main stress hormone and works in balance with estrogen. When cortisol rises due to stress in our lives, estrogen goes down and has a negative effect on both our brain and hormonal functions.

Supplements to support brain function

I recommend a supplement called Ashwagandha to regulate cortisol levels and promote a calmer and happier sense of being.

A Vitamin B Complex, which includes B6, B9 and B12, supports healthy brain function and is key for optimal neurological functioning.

Omega 3 fatty acids are a type of fat the body cannot make on its own and they are essential in protecting the brain against cognitive decline as well as sharpening memory and improving mood.

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