How oestrogen affects your brain health during menopause

How oestrogen affects your brain health during menopause

How does menopause affect our brain health? From difficulty retaining new information to brain fog, there are some unexpected ways that the decline in oestrogen affects our brain during these midlife years and beyond. Let's take a look:
You asked, we listened Reading How oestrogen affects your brain health during menopause 6 minutes Next What is MS, and how does it affect you?

Menopause is a big milestone in our lives as women. For many women, menopause passes with few symptoms, or find that HRT offers adequate relief. For others, it's a challenging time with a plethora of symptoms that affect every part of our lives - from socialising and work, to caring responsibilities and parenting. 

One of the most common symptoms of menopause is brain fog, and memory loss - in fact, it's thought that at least two-thirds of women will experience this symptom in perimenopause. But what else is happening in our brain during this time of our lives, and what should you know about the connection between oestrogen and brain health during perimenopause and beyond?

Here’s a few ways that oestrogen affects our brain during menopause:

Difficulty retaining information or learning new things

Do you find it increasingly difficult to learn new things, or remember stuff that used to come so easily to you? If so, it's important to know that oestrogen is vital for memory and learning. It enhances synaptic plasticity, the ability of synapses to strengthen or weaken over time, which is fundamental for learning and memory formation. Reduced oestrogen levels during menopause can impair synaptic plasticity, making it harder to remember new information or learn new skills - that's why you are struggling with new tech, or can't remember how to follow a process at work without revising it first. It's not you, it's literally your oestrogen levels!

Protecting the brain against disease

This is rarely discussed when we talk about menopause and HRT, but oestrogen has 'neuroprotective' properties, meaning it helps protect brain cells from damage and supports their repair and growth. This protection is crucial as we age, as it helps to mitigate the effects of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's. With lower oestrogen levels during menopause, the brain becomes more vulnerable to damage and cognitive decline.

Low mood, anxiety and even depression

Mental health is closely tied to oestrogen levels and if you have, or are experiencing symptoms of anxiety or low mood during your midlife years, low oestrogen could be a contributing factor. This hormone influences the production and activity of neurotransmitters that regulate mood, such as serotonin and norepinephrine. Many women experience mood swings, anxiety, and depression during menopause due to the sudden drop in oestrogen. Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) has been shown to improve these symptoms by stabilising oestrogen levels, thus enhancing overall mental well-being.

Increase in brain foggy-ness

Finding yourself lost for that word again, or forgetting what you went into the room for? One of the most commonly reported symptoms of menopause is brain fog. This manifests as forgetfulness, difficulty concentrating, and a general feeling of mental cloudiness. Oestrogen plays a crucial role in maintaining cognitive clarity by supporting neurotransmitter systems like serotonin and dopamine, which are essential for mood regulation and clear thinking. The drop in oestrogen levels during menopause can disrupt these systems, leading to cognitive issues.

Poor quality or interrupted sleep

Sleep disturbances are another common issue during menopause, often exacerbated by hot flashes and night sweats. Oestrogen helps regulate sleep by maintaining the stability of circadian rhythms and influencing the production of melatonin, the sleep hormone. Low oestrogen can lead to poor sleep quality, which in turn affects cognitive function and overall brain health.

Diminished blood flow 

Oestrogen is essential for maintaining healthy blood flow to the brain. It supports the health of blood vessels and promotes the production of nitric oxide, which helps blood vessels relax and expand, improving circulation. During menopause, reduced oestrogen can lead to diminished blood flow, which affects brain function and can contribute to cognitive decline.

Increase in inflammation 

Chronic inflammation is a significant factor in brain ageing and cognitive decline and is a contributory factor of risk of dementia. Research has shown that oestrogen has anti-inflammatory properties that helps to keep inflammation in the brain in check and reduce the risk of disease. As oestrogen levels drop during menopause, the increase in inflammation can accelerate brain ageing and impair cognitive function. 

Don't panic - there are plenty of things you can do today to help improve your brain health during perimenopause and into older age. Here's our top 3 tips:

  1. Speak to your GP: If you are concerned that you are experiencing symptoms of perimenopause, or noticing changes in your cognitive function, then speaking to your GP is an important first step. Consider keeping a symptom diary, and noting anything of concern that can help your GP understand your worries better. Don't be afraid to raise the discussion of HRT and whether it's right for you, too. 

  2. Eat foods that are rich in Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Omega-3 fatty acids, found in foods like salmon, walnuts, and flaxseeds, are essential for brain health. They support cognitive function, reduce inflammation, and help maintain healthy brain cell membranes. Why not add one of these to your evening meal today? 

  3. Move your body, every day: Exercise is a powerful tool for maintaining brain health. It enhances blood flow to the brain, reduces stress, and promotes the growth of new brain cells. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise, such as brisk walking, cycling, or yoga, to boost your cognitive function and overall mental well-being.

  4. Practice mindfulness for your mental wellbeing and brain health: Chronic stress can negatively impact brain health, especially during menopause. Mindfulness practices, such as meditation, deep breathing exercises, and progressive muscle relaxation, can help manage stress levels. Spend just 10-15 minutes today practicing mindfulness to improve your mood and cognitive clarity.