As the years go by I become more and more interested in optimizing brain health. If you have had an appointment with me, you probably will remember me mentioning something about brain health, even if it wasn't your chief concern.
The reason for these discussions is because the pillars of health that I always talk about: sleep, physical activity, nutrition, and mindset have everything to do with brain health and neuroplasticity as well. Neuroplasticity being the ability of the nervous system to change through growth and reorganization. The brain has to rewire to function in some way that differs from how it previously functioned; like post-stroke or concussion.
But did you know that perimenopause requires brain reorganization? The brains, not just the reproductive organs of women, depend on estrogen. Longer exposure to estrogen may offer protection to the brain. Meanwhile losing estrogen can harm the brain, especially in the perimenopausal time period where brain changes are triggered. These changes however may not become evident until decades later!
Studies have shown an increase in anxiety, depression, migraines, multiple sclerosis and other immune disorders during perimenopause and menopause. Clinically I see if a woman is predisposed to these conditions, perimenopause is one of those key times for them to get activated. Researchers have shown that brain energy declines by 20% during this time period. Men at the same age show no changes which could be because they don't typically experience a hormone decline as rapidly or as early as women do.
Research also supports the idea that the transition to menopause offers a critical window for intervention and this is where Naturopathic Doctors are well suited. As a woman, our brain needs estrogen. If that decline in estrogen is too rapid and our brain is reorganizing and brain energy levels are declining we will suffer cognitive decline: forgetting words, brain fog, anxiety, depression, etc. By looking at an individualized approach in supporting hormones in our 40s, we can support our brain health.
Let's be proactive with the basics first! 1. We know our gut produces 90% of the serotonin and 50% of the dopamine that our bodies use. That is one HUGE gut-brain connection that everyone needs to know about. Your brain will function best when given optimal fuel. Eat those walnuts, blueberries, avocadoes, and dark green leafies!
2. Sleep is essential for learning and the consolidation of memory. Prioritize good restorative sleep.
3. Increased aerobic physical activity and fitness are associated with increases in gray matter volume of all ages. Exercise may help to offset brain atrophy, one of the main consequences of brain aging.
4. A reduction of stress hormone production may counter the damaging effects of stress on cognitive performance and neuroplasticity. Consider mindfulness exercises, deep breathing or meditation.
Final interesting little tip that spurred the content of this blog post: Brushing your teeth with a non-dominant hand can boost the plasticity in the brain!!
Make this year the time you prioritize food as fuel, restorative sleep, physical movement daily, and positive mindset. Your body, especially your brain will thank you today and for the years ahead.