Hello everyone and welcome to the blog! If this is your first article please pop around and read some of the others we’ve posted about perimenopause/menopause. This article will be dedicated to the brain aspects.
Let’s start by saying something that is obvious but often overlooked. Hormones, perimenopause, and menopause affect the brain! While this is very common, it is also very hard to describe. Are you going to walk into the doctor and say, “Doc, my brain isn’t working well”? Most of us aren’t, but the brain dysfunction comes out in different ways. Fuzzy thinking, forgetfulness, loss of motivation, depression, anxiety, sleep problems, poor concentration, and poor memory are all signs that scream, “My brain is not working!”
One of the most recent findings in modern biology is the finding of hormone receptors on previously unlinked tissues. Researchers have found an abundance of hormone receptors on neurons in our brain that affect the way our brains work . To take this even further, it is now known that glial cells (brain cells) will take cholesterol and DHEA and use them to synthesize sex hormones (progesterone, estrogen, testosterone) right in the brain ! A study in 2008 said the following:
“Collectively, our results suggest that microglia utilize steroid-converting enzymes and related proteins to influence inflammation and neurodegeneration within microenvironments of the brain. ”
This production of hormones by the glial cells is extra important during perimenopause as the ovaries decrease their production. I hope you noticed what the glial cells use to produce these hormones…cholesterol and DHEA. Cholesterol is a topic for another day, but DHEA is produced in the adrenals! In our other posts we said that when your body is under stress it will go through a “pregnenalone steal” and make cortisol to handle that stress and inflammation. This means it will steal the sex hormones (like DHEA) in order to handle stress and inflammation. (Please see our post on inflammation for more on how to deal with that.)
Lastly, when your body is under this inflammation and under high amounts of cortisol, we find the area of your brain called the Hippocampus malfunctions. The Hippocampus is rich in cortisol receptors, and as such it is especially sensitive to it. The hippocampus is involved with our working memory and our circadian rhythms. When it begins to dysfunction, you have difficulty remembering things. (where did I put my keys, why did I pick up my cell phone, why did I walk into this room, why can’t I remember what someone told me 10 minutes ago, etc?) When the hippocampus malfunctions you also have disturbances in sleep and energy. This typically comes on as being tired all day but can’t get to sleep at night, or waking up in the middle of the night and not being able to get back to sleep.
How can you help solve this problem? Some of the best supplements to restore adrenal function are called herbal adaptogens including ginseng and ashwaganda. Phosphytidyl serine is also helpful in protecting the hippocampus, helping people with brain function and normal circadian rhythms. However, you must always find the cause of inflammation to really get at the root of the problem and unwind what has happened in your body.
Click below to learn more from Dr. Warren about perimenopause and menopause!