How to look after your brain health during and post menopause

digital image of human brain

Brain health and cognitive decline is a common worry for many women in midlife. And I’d say it’s one of the most scary too. We all know of someone with or caring for someone with dementia or Alzheimer’s – and women are twice as likely to suffer from it as men.

But it's vital to remember that mental decline isn't an unavoidable part of getting older. There is so much we can do to protect our brains. A study by the Lancet Commission on Dementia in 2020 found that by taking preventive actions in our twenties, thirties, forties, and fifties, we might be able to ‘prevent or delay' around 40% of dementia cases later in life.

Brain health as we age

Here's what's happening to our brains as we get older;

Menopause; your sex hormones play a crucial role in protecting your brain against memory loss, fogginess and risk of dementia. Oestrogen affects the metabolism of serotonin, dopamine, noradrenaline and choline, which all play a role in mood regulation. Testosterone is also known to be neuroprotective – which means it’s good for your brain. When levels decline, it’s been shown to increase oxidative damage. Progesterone also has protective effects on brain health and your nervous system, helping improve our cognitive function, reducing anxiety and our ability to cope with stress. Additionally, it has anti-inflammatory properties that can protect us against cognitive disorders.

Insulin; blood sugar imbalances and excess insulin from high carb and sugar consumption, can contribute to brain inflammation, disrupting neurotransmitter activity. This can be exacerbated during menopause as we become more at risk of insulin resistance.

Stress; too much cortisol in the brain can mess with electrical signals, reduce levels of important brain proteins and neurotransmitters like BDNF, serotonin, and dopamine, while also damaging neurons and making your brain's protective barrier leaky, which could lead to inflammation and cell death, potentially speeding up ageing.

Oxidation – it's normal for your brain cells to die off every day through oxidation (basically getting rusty!). But if you don’t have enough antioxidants to combat this, it can result in accelerated ageing and higher risk of cognitive decline.

Inflammation – your brain health is vulnerable to ‘inflammaging’ as much as the rest of your body. Depression, Alzheimer’s and cognitive decline are all linked to chronic low-grade inflammation. Pro inflammatory cytokines slow down your brain signalling and function, which can result in mood issues, forgetfulness, foggy thinking and anxiety.

The good news is that while we can't stop the ageing process, we can proactively support our brain health through our diet and lifestyle (and of course HRT if appropriate).

In my recent conversation with Susan Saunders, author and health coach, she discussed her 6 pillars to nurture your brain health no matter what your age.

6 Pillars of brain health

  1. Diet – load up on antioxidant rich colourful fruits and vegetables, oily fish packed with omega 3 fats, good quality protein and plenty of fibre and hydration. Balance your blood sugar by minimising sugars, refined carbs and alcohol. Look after your gut health – any inflammation there can travel to the brain. Consider anti-inflammatory Vitamin D and EPA/DHA supplements and a good multivitamin.
  2. Exercise – just 6 minutes of vigorous exercise can trigger BDNF, or brain-derived neurotrophic factor which is like fertiliser for our neurons. Find ways to move more throughout your day, whether that’s high-intensity interval training, strength training (muscles support your brain!), or walking a bit faster—every bit counts.
  3. Sleep – deep sleep cleanses your brain. Develop a relaxing bedtime routine to wind down. Keep your room dark and cool. Don't eat too late, minimise caffeine and alcohol, and keep off the gadgets before bed.
  4. Stress Management – chronic stress literally kills our brain cells and makes us more prone to cognitive decline and disease. Find stress-busting activities you enjoy every day, like walking, meditating, or losing yourself in a relaxing hobby.
  5. Cognitive Engagement  – keep your brain engaged by learning new things. Give your brain new challenges through activities like a new hobby, reading, taking new routes, learning a language, doing crosswords or puzzles, or visiting new places. Changing your routine and environment can help too.
  6. Social and Built Environment – humans are social creatures, and our brains thrive on connection. Make time for friends, family, and community. Even small interactions, like talking to a stranger, can give your brain a workout. Minimise exposure to environmental hazards when you can.

Check out the full interview below, or listen to the Happy Hormones podcast episode (ep 147).

Get yourself tested 

Nutrients, hormones and gut function are vital to maintaining good brain health, so getting tested can rule out any imbalances that could be contributing to symptoms. 

Start with these;

  • Nutrients; including Iron (Ferritin), Folate, Vitamin D, Vitamin B12.
  • Thyroid – get a full thyroid panel done (TSH, FT4, FT3, TPO antibodies), even if your Dr has told you your thyroid is normal.
  • Adrenals – the best way to test your cortisol is in the urine.
  • Sex hormones – Oestrogen/Progesterone/Testosterone are critical for brain function. Again, this is best done in the urine over 24 hours.
  • Gut health – get tested for inflammation, absorption and microbial imbalances that can affect brain health.

Contact Us if you'd like more information on these and other tests we offer.

Leave a Reply