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What Does Menopause Do To The Brain

How Much Does The Menopause Impact Health Later In Life

How menopause affects the brain | Lisa Mosconi

Plenty isn’t known about what the impact of going through the menopause has on women later in life.

During menopause and perimenopause – around four to 10 years leading up to a womens last period – estrogen levels fluctuate and eventually decline.

Estrogen protects the female brain from ageing and stimulates neural activity.

Scientists think the hormonal changes in the transition which cause the brain changes are also then what trigger the classic menopause symptoms.

Hot flashes, night sweats, brain fog, memory issues and disturbed sleep, along with anxiety, depression and fatigue, can all then follow.

Go With Ginkgo Biloba

You may have heard ginkgo biloba touted as a brain herb, but American research casts doubt on its usefulness. Maki says ginkgo biloba is widely used in Germany to combat dementia and memory loss, but studies done in the United States have not shown that it performs any better than a placebo. Ginkgo biloba is generally considered safe but can have some serious negative interactions with medications, so talk with your doctor before taking the supplement during menopause or at any other time.

This Menopause Side Effect Is Frustrating But It Will Pass

Menofog. Mentalpause. Perifog. Menobrain. Brain fog has plenty of nicknames, but whatever you call it, this menopause symptom causes distress for women who suffer from it.

“I find it frustrating. I feel stupid,” Tania Wastney, 52, told HealthyWomen. Wastney described her brain fog as simple mix-ups putting milk in her coffee instead of cream and moments of forgetfulness, such as forgetting her phone’s password even though she’s used the same code for years.

Dr. Barb DePree, director of the Women’s Midlife Services at Holland Hospital and a member of HealthyWomen’s Women’s Health Advisory Council, explained that, for most women, brain fog is expressed as forgetfulness. She described walking into a room and forgetting why or struggling to remember someone’s name as examples.

“Typically,” DePree said, “we associate the term ‘brain fog’ with the menopausal transition.” However, it often persists into early menopause.

At 47, Judith Roszyk who is wrapping up her master’s degree in industrial and organizational psychology is in that transition, also known as perimenopause. Roszyk has been experiencing brain fog for two years and it can ruin her day.

“It makes decision-making more difficult and details are often missed,” Roszyk explained. “My cognitive abilities slow down, my responses slow down it feels like my neurons are working in slow motion, as if they’re stoned.”

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Estrogen And The Brain

About 40 million American women have reached the menopause. Ovarian estrogen production begins to decline 1 or 2 years before menopause and reaches a stable nadir about 2 years after the final menstrual period. Compared with levels during a womans reproductive years, serum concentrations of estradiol and estronethe primary circulating estrogensare very low thereafter.

The brain is an important target organ for estrogen. In addition to direct effects, estrogen influences brain function through effects on the vasculature and the immune system. Two classes of intracellular estrogen receptors, ?and , are expressed within specific regions of the human brain. Other receptors located in the plasma membrane help regulate intracellular signaling cascades and mediate rapid effects that do not involve genomic activation.

Many estrogen actions are potentially relevant to cognitive changes occurring after menopause, but for most the clinical implications are yet unclear. Estrogen enhances synaptic plasticity, neurite growth, hippocampal neurogenesis, and long-term potentiation. The latter is a physiologic process involved in formation of episodic memories. Estrogen protects against apoptosis and against neural injury in a variety of experimental settings, including toxicity induced by excitatory neurotransmitters, -amyloid, oxidative stress, and ischemia.

What Causes Menopausal Brain Fog

Hormone Optimization

Since hormones oestrogen, progesterone, follicle-stimulating hormone , and luteinizing hormone play a role in cognition, scientists hypothesise that fluctuating hormone levels during perimenopause are responsible for brain fog.Though other menopausal symptoms, such as hot flushes, night sweats, sleep issues, anxiety, and depression, may contribute to memory problems, they dont appear to be the primary cause of brain fog. Instead, evidence suggests that hormonal changes in particular, those associated with oestrogen are more likely to cause cognitive challenges in menopausal women .

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What About The Relationship Between Ovarian Hormones And Cognition

Neurally speaking, oestrogen keeps your brain healthy.

As discussed in the blog post Are your menopause symptoms all in your head? Or brain?, oestrogen enables sharp thinking by promoting neuron and synapse growth and survival.

We know exactly what happens in rats and mice when oestrogen surges during the oestrous cycles of rodents, dendritic spines from the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex flourish. The spines are later pruned away as oestrogen levels wane.

Dramatic pruning of spines is seen in menopausal monkeys and rats whove had their ovaries removed. And in both monkeys and rats spine pruning is correlated with worse memory. We have no idea if this is the case in women going through menopause, but is certainly plausible.

We also understand that oestrogen supports the biochemical pathways that use insulin and generate energy from glucose. Changes in oestrogen may change how efficiently neurons use glucose and in turn memory and attention.

Mosconis 2021 research provides strong support for this notion. Glucose metabolism slowed in the brains of post-menopausal women. However, the brain compensated for this slowing by increasing blood flow and increasing ATP metabolism.

Mosconi suggests instead the brain cleverly compensates for changing hormone levels, and finds a new normal after menopause.

Brain Changes And The Menopause

We have receptors for the hormones oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone all over our bodies, not just in our genitals and reproductive organs. This means that we can get symptoms related to the perimenopause and menopause all over our bodies and that includes our brains!

We know that women’s brains respond to hormone changes at other times as well, including the menstrual cycle and after having a baby.

Oestrogen has lots of effects in the brain: it increases blood flow to the brain, improves brain connectivity – how different parts of the brain talk to each other and is involved in clearing the amyloid protein deposits which can contribute to Alzheimer’s disease.

It also increases the activity of serotonin which is involved in mood but also in some parts of memory and thinking.

Symptoms such as low mood, depression, anxiety, irritability and mood swings as well as what is often termed the menopausal brain fog, which describes difficulties with memory and concentration are common during the menopause and are related to the drop of oestrogen levels in the brain.

But let’s be clear, this does not mean that women’s brains don’t work properly without oestrogen after the menopause – they definitely worked before puberty and continue to after the menopause!

A study compared men and women and their ability to perform memory tasks between the ages of 45 and 55.

Importantly, these brain changes with regards to memory and concentration seem to be temporary.

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Can Hrt Help With Brain Fog

Brain fog can be difficult to deal with for some women, which is why doctors may recommend HRT to help with your symptoms.

Brain fog is a serious issue for many women. Some women experience mild symptoms and some wont experience it at all. However, others may start to notice it interferes with their lives. Brain fog can be frustrating and isolating for many women during menopause. Some may even be alarmed and wonder if theyre showing early signs of dementia when brain fog is particularly bad. Brain fog has been associated with the menopause transition, which has led many researchers to consider whether hormones play a part in brain fog. Some studies are also looking at whether hormone therapy can help improve brain fog symptoms.

Your Cognitive Function Might Feel A Little Rusty

How Does Menopause Affect Your Brain Health?

On top of memory lapses, a perimenopausal woman may also experience issues in cognitive function, such as slower responses and difficulty in concentrating. Lisa Mosconi explains, “Every woman knows that as you reach menopause, your hair goes dry, your skin goes drythat’s aging,” she says. “Few people are aware that the same thing would happen in the brain. Our brain cells start aging faster.” So if you’ve been feeling like your brain isn’t working as sharply as it used to and you’re in your perimenopausal years, your hormones could be the reason.

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Natural Menopause Brain Fog Remedies

Knowing that your hormones will settle down eventually is comforting, but taking active measures can have you feeling like your usual self sooner than later.

1. Eat a Healthy Diet

Every bite of food you take either nourishes your brain or adds to its burden.

While in menopause, its more important than ever to eat a healthy diet.

Because theres so much confusing information about diet, you may wonder what exactly a healthy diet means.

An excellent place to start is with these three words of advice.

Eat real food.

Real food is found in the outer aisles of the grocery store or at a farmers market.

Youll know it when you see it it has no need for an ingredient label and doesnt come in a can, package, or box.

Eating unprocessed food automatically reduces your intake of brain health thieves like sugar, white flour, food additives, and trans fats while ensuring that your brain gets the nutrients it needs to thrive.

Additionally, avoid eating a low-fat diet since progesterone, estrogen, testosterone, and other sex hormones are synthesized from cholesterol.

2. Stay Hydrated

Drink plenty of liquids.

Dehydration is surprisingly common among women in menopause since both estrogen and progesterone are important for fluid regulation.

The 8-glasses-per-day rule of thumb is a reasonable place to start, but this online hydration calculator will further refine how much water you should drink for your situation.

3. Lose the Belly Fat

5. Exercise

How To Measure Loss Of Brain Function

Brain function may be measured in many ways. The study by Meyer et al. looked at how fast the women could match figures and reverse a string of numbers from memory. These two tests are often used to find other problems of brain function. To be sure that factors besides menopause did not cause changes, the study included women from different groups. A balance of black and white women was in the study. Also, people in the study had different levels of health, education, and income.

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Your Health Questions Answered

  • Answered by: Dr Roger HendersonAnswered: 21/10/2021

    The problems of cloudy thinking and being forgetful that you get with brain fog are different from the thought problems you can have with dementia or Alzheimers disease. One of the main differences is that these conditions affect not only your memory, but also your ability to have a normal life. They also get worse over time. If you dont feel able to do your usual work, household tasks or social activities, talk to your doctor, as it may be a sign of something other than menopause brain fog.

What Can Be Done About Menopause

how the brain changes during menopause

Doctors may suggest treatments for menopause. Women may be told to work out more and to change their diets. They may be told to eat a healthier diet and to add calcium-rich foods, soybean products, and whole grains. A stress control group or class may help. Some doctors prescribe hormone replacement therapy.

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Is It Menopause Brain Fog Or Dementia

This question comes up a lot at Gennev women cant remember where they left their keys a friends name suddenly pops out of their brains they cant retrieve the right word in conversation and they fear they may be experiencing early-onset dementia.

While brain fog is irritating, its generally just that irritating. Dementia is far more likely to disrupt life and normal activities. Have you stopped doing tasks you normally did because you feel unable to do them? That might indicate a more serious issue.

If youre worried your memory lapses may be more serious, there are many signs of Aazheimers and a number you can call to speak with an expert about your concerns.

Estrogen And Cognition In Midlife

Functional brain imaging studies demonstrate that estrogen modulates neural activity during performance of cognitive tasks. Around the time of the menopausal transition, many women report problems with memory, perhaps suggesting that hormonal changes associated with menopause are linked to memory complaints. This is a potentially worrisome symptom, because the inability to learn and consciously recall new information can be a very early sign of Alzheimer disease or other forms of dementia. However, forgetfulness is a common symptom at almost any age, and a complaint of poor memory can emerge in the setting of anxiety or depression. The complaint might also refer to other, more specific symptoms. These include poor concentration, difficulty recalling an acquaintances name, forgetting why one has entered a room , and failing to recall appointments and events. Only the latter symptom is closely linked to episodic memory impairment. Clinicians must therefore consider a number of alternatives when memory is reported to be poor.

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What Causes A Foggy Brain In Menopause

It usually starts in perimenopause, as estrogen levels begin sloping downward. Foggy brain happens because, as neuroscientist Dr. Lisa Mosconi told us, estrogen is a master-regulator of our brains. We have lots of widely distributed estrogen receptors in our brains, and when estrogen levels decline, a critical energy source is gone. To put it simply, perimenopause brains are tired.

Fortunately, menopause brain fog is largely temporary. In menopause, women do lose the neuro-protective effects of estrogen, but as our bodies adjust to decreased levels of hormones, so do our brains.

Associations Between Biomarkers And Cognition

Questions on brain fog, concentration and memory loss during menopause

There were no significant differences in cognitive scores between MT groups , or between each MT group and the corresponding age-matched male group . As shown in Supplementary Table S13, in the POST group, precuneus GMV was positively associated with memory scores at cross-section and longitudinally . ATP/PCr in temporo-parietal regions was positively associated with global cognition . There were no significant associations between cognitive scores and regional biomarkers among PRE and PERI groups .

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How Does Menopause Change Your Brain

The menopause transition and hormone level drop changes the brain’s structure, energy consumption and connectivity.

The volume of the brain’s gray matter – made up of nerve cells – decreases, along with the white matter as oestrogen gets lower.

Brain regions associated with memory and perception have also been found to lose glucose levels – which fits with many menopausal women suffering with memory problems.

What Menopause Does To Your Brain

When women go through menopause, often, the brain is also affected. Lisa Mosconi, a director at Weill Cornell Medicine, says it’s estrogen that is at fault. Estrogen, a hormone that plays a significant role in a woman’s reproductive health, is said to dramatically decrease during perimenopause. Mosconi says, “Estrogen is a neuroprotective hormone. When it declines, the brain is left more vulnerable.” In fact, brain function and estrogen are so closely linked that the risk of Alzheimer’s also increases in perimenopausal women who are predisposed to the condition.

“Menopause is more like a trigger than a cause,” Mosconi adds. “And not just for Alzheimer’s, but for cognitive fog in general.” As your hormone levels fluctuate starting from your perimenopausal years, many functions in a woman’s body are affected, including the brain.

Here are other effects menopause can have on brain function:

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Can Brain Changes In Menopause Be Reversed

Research published in the journal of Neurology covered a group of 800 women over six years, and throughout the study, the brain function was tested each year: Data showed that as the menopausal cycle went from beginning stages to later stages, cognitive decline worsened.

Fortunately, none of the cognitive effects were permanent, and no structural damage to the brain was found to linger after menopause. An important aspect of the study that will need to be further evaluated is whether the cognitive decline that occurs naturally in old age happens for the same hormonal reasons as menopause.

Menopause Can Change Your Brain

September Is Menopause Awareness Month @ Meno

As women age, their ovaries stop producing regular amounts of estrogen and progesterone. The age at which this happens varies, but can start as early as the late-30s or until late-50s.

Typically, symptoms of menopause include mood swings, sleep problems, and hot flashes. Less commonly reported symptoms are memory issues and the dreaded brain fog, because they are written off as a symptom of getting older.

Brain fog is the term that lumps together different components that stem from mental fatigue, including memory issues, confusion, attention issues, etc. Often, brain fog is experienced throughout a persons life, especially during times of fatigue or exhaustion, but many women dont realize that these things naturally occur during menopause.

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How Long Does Menopause Brain Fog Last

Its great that menopause brain fog isnt forever, but the fact is it usually starts in perimenopause and can hang on even into early menopause, meaning women may not feel as sharp or focused for several years. Given that women in their late 40s and early 50s are often at the height of their careers, who can wait?

So do we just resign ourselves to hiring a random teenager to program the DVR?

You can, if you want to. Or you can leverage your brains natural neuroplasticity, training your brain to make new connections when older ones fail. Hormones and 50th birthdays notwithstanding, you yes, you can program your own DVR.

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