Ageing brain and menopause
Every woman naturally experiences menopause at around 45-55 years of age. Menstruation gradually slows down, eventually stops, and they are no longer able to become pregnant. These changes occur because the ovaries stop making eggs and cease the production of oestrogen and progesterone.
Aside from the termination of menstrual cycles, the absence of oestrogen and progesterone causes other symptoms we commonly associate with menopause as well. Menopause does not happen overnight, oestrogen and other hormones start dropping years before the last menstrual period, which is the menopause transition or perimenopause.
Women suffer from many problems during and after menopause, such as hot flushes, skin dryness and wrinkles, vaginal dryness, decreased sex drive, osteoporosis, memory problems, diminished cognitive ability and focus, mood swings, fatigue, and weight gain etc.
Cognitive function and dementia
Research says that ovarian steroids play a regulatory role in cognitive function in women. Studies show that combined hormone therapy and unopposed oestrogen therapy in women improve cognition and lessen the risk of dementia. Hormones play a major role in memory for both men and women.
Hormones are a major reason for memory problems and general brain fogginess. Sleep disturbance, mood change, and depression are also common due to these hormone deficiencies. It is believed that oestrogen may help the neurotransmitter systems that signal in brain areas involved in memory and information process. It also may help in the survival of neurons that send electrical impulses.
Ways to improve memory
* Hormone replacement therapy: Both oestrogen and progesterone work best during perimenopause and early stage of menopause.
* Natural ways of improving your hormones: Getting enough rest improves your hormones, especially by reducing the level of stress hormones. Sleep well. Meditation helps to relax too. Avoid stimulants such as caffeine. Eat healthy foods. Eat fatty fishes like salmon but avoid mercury-containing fish like tuna which cause memory loss. Whole eggs and chicken are also good. Limit alcohol, sugars, heated / hydrogenated oils, artificial sweeteners, and baked goods / desserts.
* Exercise: Motion improves your blood flow, just walk briskly for 20-30 minutes every day or at least 3 times weekly. Lifting weight is very important for hormone production and improving blood flow to the brain.
* Strengthen your brain: You must exercise your brain to prevent ‘shrinking’ of the brain. Read more and learn something new.
* Take supplements: There are a few powerful herbs like spirulina that work like ‘steroid’ for your brain, they improve blood flow in the brain and increase neurotransmitters and chemicals like dopamine and serotonin.
As you are getting older and going through menopause or are not producing the same level of hormones, does not mean that you have to go through the rest of your life feeling old and having memory problems.
Please take action from today. Make more improvements in your lifestyle and I promise that you will not only feel younger, you will also look younger!
The writer is an Associate Professor of Medicine at Z H Sikder Women's Medical College and Hospital, Dhaka