What can I do to support my cognitive health after menopause?
Menopause is an important transitional time in the life of women. Few women have a wholly smooth transition. In some women, the symptoms experienced are mostly physical and may include hot flashes, weight gain, and heavy or irregular periods. In addition, women may suffer from insomnia, moodiness, irritability or increased anxiety and brain fog.
What is menopausal brain fog?
Anywhere from one third to two-thirds of women note changes in their memory and cognition during this time. Recent research has shown that changes seem to be most pronounced in early postmenopause, that is the first 12 months after the final menstrual period. Estrogen levels drop during this time and estrogen receptors are common in areas of the brain highly active in mood and cognition.
During this time, scientists noted the most pronounced declines in certain areas of cognitive function including attention and working memory, verbal learning, and verbal memory.
This study examined but did not find any correlation between the women’s severity of issues and their hormone levels though it did note that it may be fluctuations in hormones that create some of the issues. Surprisingly to the researchers, these changes were also not correlated with the severity of other menopausal symptoms such as mood, anxiety and sleep disruption which might be expected to be directly related to changes in cognition (1).
Do I have dementia?
Many of us fear losing cognitive capabilities as we age. It should be reassuring to hear that the age of onset for the vast majority of Alzheimer’s sufferers is after age 65. However, a small percentage of Alzheimer’s patients have early onset of the condition that can strike in the 40s or 50s, around the time of menopausal hormonal symptoms. For this reason and because cognitive changes can also be caused by thyroid issues, vitamin deficiencies or infections, it is important to consult with your physician when you are experiencing changes in cognition and memory.
Will my memory come back?
The good news is that these changes appear to be transitory in most women. The worst symptoms seem to fall in early postmenopause. But over time, the brain seems to get accustomed to a lower level of estrogen and cognitive functions appear to rebound to premenopausal levels (2). However, during the transition these changes can be distressing, adding further to what can already be a stressful time. Women in this age group need to be functioning at a high level for numerous responsibilities that may include work, relationship, kids, and aging parents.
Are there any treatments to help menopausal brain fog?
As the cognitive changes appear to be linked with the sudden drop in estrogen that occurs with menopause, hormone replacement has been looked at as one option that may assist women with brain fog. However, several studies have failed to prove a correlation between cognitive issues and estrogen levels and many women wish to avoid going on hormone therapy for a number of reasons.
Are there any lifestyle approaches to support memory?
The Mediterranean diet, while not a quick fix, is one of the best-studied diets for both cardio and brain health. Choosing lots of vegetables, legumes, nuts and whole grains as well as healthy sources of fat like olive oil and fatty fish (Mega Omega) can set one up for taking care of their cognition over the long term (3).
Avoid alcohol. Alcohol disrupts healthy sleep and can worsen the tendency to have worse sleep through menopause. Sleep is essential for proper attention, focus and memory processes.
Get more sleep. This may not be a possibility for those with major sleep disruption,(REM Maintenance) but in those cutting corners on sleep in order to make time for other activities, you may find you are more productive and have more energy, attention and focus if you prioritize sleep through this transition.
Exercise—studies have shown exercise may provide benefit both physically and mentally for menopausal women. It improves mood, those pesky hot flashes and may alleviate memory and concentration difficulties (4).
Nutritional Support for Cognition and Memory
Though the processes involved in menopausal brain fog are transitory, many women understandably seek natural support for attention and focus during this time. In addition, experiencing these symptoms leaves many women wondering what they can do to support brain health over the long term.
Protecting brain health means protecting both nervous and circulatory tissue. Protection involves nutrients with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that can get to the brain. Lutein is a plant extract with antioxidant properties which can cross the blood-brain barrier and protect nervous tissue. Vinpocetine aids healthy cerebral blood flow, necessary for bringing oxygen and nutrients to the brain.
In addition, nutritional support should nourish the processes of the brain involved in communication and neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity, the making of new neural connections, is vital to memory processes. Magtein®’s magnesium-L-threonate delivers magnesium to brain tissue in support of synapse density and brain plasticity. Bacognize® Bacopa monnieri plant extract positively modulates serotonin receptors important to healthy mood and memory and provides antioxidant and anti-inflammatory protection to neural tissue.
Metabolic Maintenance’s metaMIND™ can provide women valuable cognitive and mood support through the transition of menopause.
- Weber M, Rubin L, Maki P. “Cognition in perimenopause: the effect of transition stage.” Menopause. 2013 May;20 (5):511-7.
- Greendale G, Huang M, Wight R, et al. “Effects of the menopause transition and hormone use in cognitive performance in midlife women.” Neurology. 2009 May 26; 72(21): 1850-7.
- Petersson S, Philippou E. “Mediterranean diet, cognitive function and dementia: a systematic review of the evidence.” Adv Nutr. 2016 Sept 15;7(5): 889-904.
Slaven, L., & Lee, C. (1997). “Mood and symptom reporting among middle-aged women: The relationship between menopausal status, hormone replacement therapy, and exercise participation.” Health Psychology. 16(3), 203-208.