Dr Ghazala Aziz-Scott, specialist in integrative women’s health and bioidentical hormone balancing for the Marion Gluck Clinic, explores the menopause and associated brain fog that many women experience.
Women in the menopausal age group are rocketing and “rocking it” in the workforce so being fabulous after 50 includes our brain health and retaining clarity and focus of mind. But does menopausal “brain fog” toss us out of the frying pan into the fire? In reality, 60% of women go through some midlife cognitive impairment, the most common being memory loss or forgetfulness. Misplacing your keys or phone is one thing, however, when it also impacts learning ability, information retention, goal setting and organisational skills, even simple tasks can feel challenging. Let’s not forget the other symptoms of menopause such as anxiety, insomnia, night sweats and hot flushes often coexist and contribute but “brain fog” is not in your imagination! So when the superwoman performance ability you once took in your stride feels historical, confidence and self-esteem do a deep dive.
Brain like candy floss, memory like a sieve: women can have individual experiences but in general, “brain fog” is caused by declining levels of the sex hormones, estrogen, progesterone and testosterone. It is important that we normalise these experiences as fears of developing Alzheimer’s dementia are common. In the middle of chaos lies opportunity: the brain and mood effects of menopause can be reversed with measures that will also improve our general health and wellbeing.
Food as Medicine
Nutritional support is key – the Mediterranean diet with its focus on wholegrains, seeds, nuts, olive oil, a wide variety of vegetables and fruit and small quantities of quality protein and dairy will optimise your health. Omega 3 fatty acids are essential for brain health and are found in oily fish such as salmon and sardines. Vegetarian sources include flax and chia seeds so power up those smoothies!
Dark green leafy vegetables contain important minerals such as magnesium which are known to support the nervous system and phytonutrients such as sulforaphane in cruciferous vegetables protect brain cells. Biohack with broccoli sprouts!
Embrace the concept of the “rainbow plate”: a diversity of colourful vegetables and fruit should comprise 50% of your plate and contain other phytonutrients, a category of which are polyphenols which have been shown to enhance learning and memory. Flavonols such as quercetin are found in apples, berries and broccoli; anthocyanins give foods red and purple pigments and are found in blueberries, cherries, root vegetables and red wine! Catechins are flavonoids found in green tea and cocoa – a couple of cups of green tea and a square of dark chocolate could be the ticket. Olive oil contains over 30 phenolic compounds that are antioxidant and resveratrol in grapes and red wine increases cerebral blood flow. If a turmeric latte is more your thing, curcumin also promotes brain health. Vitamins like C and E are antioxidants that prevent oxidative stress which can damage brain cells. Sunshine vitamin D needs wintertime supplementation and calms brain inflammation.
Wholegrains contain important B vitamins and are involved in the synthesis of key neurotransmitters or mood chemicals such as dopamine and serotonin.
The gut is populated with trillions of bacteria called the microbiome which has a myriad of biochemical functions that influence wellbeing. This communication channel is known as the gut- brain axis. Prebiotic foods such as garlic, onions, and asparagus provide soluble fibre beloved of these bugs and probiotic foods contain beneficial bacteria such as lactobacillus hence the trend of fermented foods such as miso, sauerkraut, keffir and kimchi.
Diets high in refined sugar literally cause brain damage with loss of cognitive function and memory. High blood sugar causes insulin resistance and leaky gut which leads to neuroinflammation and brain fog. Watch the vino, so full of sugar plus the liver becomes less efficient at detoxification with age.
Move that Body
Regular exercise has a positive effect on brain activity and mental ability. Aging results in decreased circulation to the brain so aerobic exercise that keeps the heart pumping ensures adequate oxygen to the grey matter and an additional bonus of some feel good endorphins.
Take a Chill-Pill and Hit Refresh
Our modern lifestyles can be so frantic that there is often no time for restorative functions to reduce stress and get proper sleep. Cortisol, our stress hormone is now pumping out constantly as we cope with the general overwhelm of life juggling multiple balls in the air. We must not forget our own self-care and practices such as meditation can improve focus and concentration.
We should be aiming for 7 to 8 hours per night. Other menopause symptoms such as hot flushes, night sweats and anxiety can cause insomnia which exacerbate the “brain fog”. Sleep literally hoovers toxins from the brain and a deep slumber is crucial for memory consolidation and information processing from the day. Limiting screen time at night is essential as the blue light emitted causes decreased levels of melatonin, our sleep hormone.
Biodentical Hormone Replacement Therapy
The brain has receptors for all the sex hormones. Estrogen protects nerve cells from damage and degeneration, boosts the immune system and promotes new nerve connections. The reduced risk of Alzheimer’s dementia with HRT use is also well researched. Anecdotally, many women feel a great improvement in brain function with HRT treatment which also alleviates symptoms of hot flushes, night sweats, mood changes and insomnia. DHEA and pregnenolone, both adrenal hormones, can improve memory. Menopause education and support is vital and it is worth seeking expert advice so that you can feel your best.
The Brave New World and Digital Distraction
Technology and hyperconnectivity of our modern era are rewiring our brains to actually become less productive. Creative thought flies out of the window. Multitasking and information overload from email volume and a constant stream of content has a cognitive cost of overstimulating the brain. Be proactive in how you consume media and prioritise information to increase brain efficiency. Make sure you put those devices away at mealtimes and during social interaction- a face to face conversation is very beneficial to the brain and improves memory and cognition. Be present and in the moment!
Dr Ghazala Aziz-Scott,
The Marion Gluck Clinic
The Marion Gluck Clinic is the UK’s leading medical clinic that pioneered the use of bioidentical hormones to treat menopause, perimenopause and other hormone related issues. Headed up by Dr. Marion Gluck herself, the clinic uses her method of bioidentical hormonal treatment to rebalance hormones to improve wellbeing, quality of life and to slow down ageing.