Although women do better than men in memory and other cognitive functions, research has shown that the female brain ages more rapidly than men due to menopause.

Understanding Menopause and the Brain

Menopause, the period when women have difficulty finding the younger self they used to have, has been widely thought to affect only the endocrine system and cause vasomotor symptoms like night sweats or hot flashes. However, as estrogen declines with age and menopause, your brain starts getting “sluggish” and is more vulnerable to the impact of aging.

Yes, estrogen has a broader and more profound influence on the body than you think. It is because although we tend to think of estrogen as a reproductive hormone, it serves as the female brain’s “master regulator.”

For example, estrogen drives the neurons to utilize glucose as energy for the brain. It’s also involved in brain cell development, plasticity and immunity. As a result, estrogen maintains the youth and vitality of your brain.

What Are the Menopause Effects on the Brain?

So, what happens to your brain during menopause and the subsequent decline in estrogen?

The structure and neuronal connectivity of the brain and its energy metabolism change significantly depending on the stage of menopause. Below are the most recognized mechanisms by which menopause affects the brain:

Menopause Affects How Brain Cells Grow and Function
So we all know menopause is associated with a slow but steady decline in estrogen levels. As estrogen levels drop, the number and interaction between brain cells change, resulting in negative alterations in brain cells’ growth and function. Of course, we don’t want our brain cells to change during this stage. Since aging is associated with the deterioration of our bodily functions, the more likely we can maintain the way our brain cells work, the better. Any “wobble” with age only harms our health.

Menopause Lowers the Level of the Fuel for Brain Cells
Falling estrogen levels also result in reduced cerebral glucose metabolism, the primary energy used for brain activity. This downhill in maintaining the “fuel” for the brain is the earliest change in the brain when women approach menopause. Reducing the energy supply for our brain leads to multiple negative consequences. First, just like the tired muscles, a lack of energy causes your brain to feel “burned out,” leading to a drop in brain performance and, sadly, an increase in a common symptom called brain fog.

Menopause Temporarily Decreases Gray Matter Volume in the Brain
The menopause transition, especially from the pre-menopausal to the post-menopausal period, also lowers the volume of gray matter, the part of the brain that consists of a high concentration of neuronal cell bodies. And because the gray matter is located in the brain region involved in memory, self-awareness, and social cognition, this dip may heavily impact memory and perception. Fortunately, this decline occurs only transiently and can be resolved in the years afterward.

How to Maintain Brain Health During Menopause

Physical Activity
Physical activity is inarguably good for your muscles and bones, and so is it for your brain. Exercise at any duration and intensity can help you think better, learn more, solve problems, and maintain emotional balance. It can also help with anxiety and depression. Any amount of physical activity can be beneficial. In addition, physical activity, regardless of age or fitness level, can help improve sleep, a vital element for brain health.

Cognitive Activity
Cognitive activities are mental tasks that involve focus, attention, and concentration. These tasks can keep the brain active while preventing age-related cognitive decline. Activities like reading books, doing simple jigsaw puzzles, and playing memory games can do wonders. What’s also important is that you should diversify the cognitive activities rather than intensify them for better effectiveness. Researchers have discovered that people with the most cognitive diversity may have better brain function.

Dietary Habits
We are what we eat. Why? Food is the “fuel” for our body. Food doesn’t only give us energy but also affects different body parts, including the brain. So, when your brain is feeling “down,” a good thing you can do is implement a healthy diet. Dietary patterns such as the Mediterranean diet or those rich in omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to improve memory function. It is because omega-3 fatty acids like EPA and DHA are essential for normal brain development at all stages of life.

Adequate Sleep
As one would expect, getting enough sleep is critical for brain health. Learning, which is impaired during menopause, is consolidated during sleep as this “zizz” time is when we process and store what we learned during the day and even helps clear the brain of the amyloid-beta, one of the markers of Alzheimer’s disease.

Yes, sleep becomes a real struggle during menopause. It’s because the brain regions in charge of sleep, wake, and body temperature, are disrupted due to low estrogen levels. The hypothalamus, for example, starts failing in body temperature regulation in response to low estrogen, resulting in sleep-disturbing hot flashes and night sweats. Estrogen depletion also “hits” your serotonin, a neurotransmitter that controls your sleep.

Does Hormone Replacement Therapy Help?

Yes it can. Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is a safe, efficient, and sustainable treatment option that directly increases estrogen levels in the female body, which translates to better cognitive function and improvements in neurological symptoms.

Explore Better Hormone Health

ReVital offers free consultations where you can speak to one of our clinicians about ReVital’s Bioidentical Hormone Replacement Therapy. At ReVital, we can conduct simple blood tests to evaluate the levels of these hormones in your system and prescribe supplements or therapies to treat and control the majority of hormonal imbalances. We also encourage that you connect with your regular doctor about any changes in your health and moods.