Memory & Menopause

Women's Health
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Talk to most people about the menopause and they will list hot flushes and night sweats as stereotypical symptoms, but in reality, this is not always the case. Women going through the menopause, or who are post-menopausal, actually list memory loss, forgetfulness and brain fog, all side effects of low oestrogen on the brain affecting memory centres and sleep, as the main barrier to maintaining and enjoying daily life. A recent questionnaire undertaken by West Midlands police reports that around 80% of women had symptoms related to the menopause that interfered with their ability to work, with memory problems topping the list.[1]

Memory Lapses and Menopause

Short-term memory lapses occur when you momentarily forget everyday things such as where you put your pen down, the date of an appointment or even what your next-door neighbour is called. This can be irritating and sometimes embarrassing. Short-term memory loss can be a persistent symptom during the menopause and is often a great source of anxiety, worry and apprehension.

Some evidence suggests that memory recall, but not memory consolidation or storage (i.e. long-term memory) is still affected post-menopause giving even more reason to support brain health through diet and lifestyle, which can positively impact memory function.[2]


Why Does The Menopause Cause Memory Lapses?

Menopause disrupts the balance of hormones throughout the body including signalling in the brain, which contains oestrogen receptors in brain regions that aid memory and verbal fluency. When levels of oestrogen in the body drop, it is no wonder that unexpected lapses in short-term memory may occur.

There is also research to suggest that frequent hot flushes can result in lapses in memory as night sweats, triggered by menopausal fluctuations in oestrogen levels, can prevent a sound night’s sleep, which hinders focus and recall the next day.[3] Of course, symptoms include continued, severe or worsening memory, rather than mild memory falters, then seeking medical advice to rule out any underlying health issues is important.

Holistic Approaches To Support Memory

Whilst reduction of short-term memory may sound alarming, remember that we can train our brains much like going to the gym to improve muscles tone. It just takes incorporating some easy and simple lifestyle and dietary measures into your day-to-day routine (if you remember!):

Exercise – regular exercise maintains a rich blood flow around the brain keeping brain cells healthy and reducing the likelihood of memory lapses. A daily 20-minute walk in the fresh air, yoga or Pilates class, swimming, jogging or simply moving more about the house and garden – all of these activities count as exercise. For more ideas please read the Nutrigold blog How to Hack Your Habits: Get Moving.

Mind games such as Sudoku and crosswords – keeping your brain active through games or learning a new skill will stimulate your brain to make new connections helping to strengthen memory pathways. There are also memory games such as Flags of the World that you can use to train your brain and even play it with all the family!

Sleep – if you don’t sleep at night, and spend your waking hours tired, your ability to remember information will reduce. Getting a proper amount of sleep at night has been proven to increase mental function and concentration during the day. Please read the Nutrigold blogs for more information on supporting quality sleep:

Are Your Getting Enough Sleep?

How to Hack Your Habits: Are You Sleep-Deprived?

Relax – it is important to take time every day to relax. If you begin to panic when your brain denies you recall information, this will only make the situation trying to recall short-term memories such as names and words worse.

Stress is also known to disrupt oestrogen levels even further due to the link between oestrogen and cortisol production and the adrenal glands – the epicentre for our stress response. This is something that you don’t want to exacerbate during the menopause. For more information on reducing stress please enjoy the Nutrigold blog How to Hack Your Habits: Surviving the Stress Epidemic.

Eat a balanced diet – a healthy diet is one of the primary ways of keeping your body and mind healthy and hormone balance in check. Certain foods have been shown to improve mental function and balance oestrogen levels. These include oily fish, whole soy products (e.g. tempeh and tofu), vegetables, nuts and seeds, especially ground flaxseeds, which contain natural phytoestrogens to balance hormones in the body. For more information please read the Nutrigold education article Nutritional Support for the Menopause and also the Nutrigold blog Do Alkaline Diets Really Work?

Supplementssoya isoflavones found in specific menopause food supplements mimic the action of natural oestrogen and can have the benefits HRT provides but without the side effects. B vitamin complexes and essential fatty acids found in organic flaxseed oil, evening primrose oil and also phospholipids from lecithin powder and Phosphatidyl Serine may aid mental function and help prevent lapses in memory.

The ayurvedic herb Ashwagandha may also support the body and mind at times of stress. Ashwagandha is an “adaptogen” meaning it can adapt to your body’s needs by balancing different systems, such as hormones and immune cells, to create stability in the body. It’s often the herbal adaptogen of choice when it comes to supporting a return to optimal function, especially in the adrenal and thyroid systems, whether those imbalances have been caused by external stresses or from internal changes such as hormonal fluctuations. For more information please read the Nutrigold blog: Get on Your A-Game with Ashwagandha.

Drink plenty of water – water hydrates the body and brain and is essential for organs to function and maintain hormone balance.

So at this time of transition, there is plenty that can be done to support body, mind and soul. If you would like further information about naturally supporting the menopause transition, including bone health, cardiovascular health and sleep, then please join us for our education partner nutrihub CPD accredited webinar: Menopause and enjoy the Nutrigold education article Nutritional Support for the Menopause.


Related Nutrigold Blogs


Nutrigold Education Article

Nutritional Support for the Menopause.


References

[1] https://www.talkingmenopause.co.uk
[2] Dong et al (2016) Diet, lifestyle and cognitive function in old Chinese adults. Arch Geron & Geriar 63:36-42
[3] Maki et al (2008) Objective hot flashes are negatively related to verbal memory performance in midlife women. Menopause 15(5): 848–856


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  • I believe it is low progesterone, not low oestrogen, that is the problem. Oestrogen dominance is what affects sleep, mood, weight, etc. and only progesterone will deal with this in those cases where women are very out of balance. I would never have coped without it.

    Reply
    • You’re right that progesterone levels also decline during perimenopause and can contribute to symptoms such as poor sleep and energy. This hormonal change, alongside fluctuations in oestrogen (which may be low or high or more typically a combination of both during peri-menopause depending on the person), as well as testosterone, can all contribute to the peri-menopause symptoms we discuss in this blog. Specifically, declining levels of oestrogen that occur through the peri-menopause years are associated with the neurological changes in the prefrontal cortex of the brain contributing to poor memory hence the focus on this article around declining oestrogen but all the tips to support memory will help balance hormones in general. It’s great that you found a route that worked for you and useful for others to know so thanks for your thanks for your comments ?

      Reply

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