Brain Health in Menopause/Andropause – A Guide to Brain Health. Prevention of brain deterioration is possible when we know what harms our brain as well as what we can do to support our brain health, and ultimately, the quality of our lives as we age. We can take control of our health by making informed choices that truly prevent or reverse chronic conditions that in the past seemed to be blamed on simply ‘luck of the draw’. Here is your guide for prevention.
1. Balance your Blood Sugar: According to a study in The New England Journal of Medicine in 2013, elevated blood sugar -even without Diabetes – was shown to be a risk factor for developing dementia, or decreased brain function. Insulin resistance is one of the most studied areas involving risk for Alzheimer’s disease and has been referred to as Type 3 Diabetes – as it damages brain circulation and tissue. In insulin resistance, glucose has difficulty entering your cells, including your brain cells, and therefore, is deprived of it’s main food source. Too much glucose & insulin in the blood, and too little in the actual cell. If you feel sleepy after a meal, you could be suffering from insulin resistance.
- Focus on more vegetables, lean protein and ‘slow carbs’ like sweet potato and quinoa
- No snacking: allow your body to use your glucose reserves between healthy meals to avoid the blood-sugar roller-coaster
- Fiber & good fats help to slow glucose metabolism and help you stay away from sugar cravings. Try ground flax seeds, chia seeds, avocado, olive oil, free-range eggs and wild-caught fish
- Read Dr. David Perlmutter’s book: Grain Brain for more information on how a high carbohydrate diet high in gluten & grains affects your brain. https://www.drperlmutter.com/about/grain-brain-by-david-perlmutter/
2. Reduce Stress: A shocking Yale study shows that our prefrontal brain actually shrinks when exposed to high levels of stress. They found that even the brains of subjects who had only recently experienced a stressful life event showed markedly lower gray matter in portions of the medial prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain that regulates not only emotions and self-control, but physiological functions such as blood pressure and glucose levels. So stress not only damages our brains, but also prevents us from dealing with stressful situations in the future. Again, prevention is key!
- Reduce stress with mindfulness practices: HeartMath (heart math.org), meditation, yoga, acupuncture, qi gong and tai chi.
- Remove stress on your physical body such as inflammation from poor diet, too much alcohol/smoking, food allergies/sensitivities, gut infections, dental infections, heavy metal toxicity, neurotoxins (aspartame, excessive alcohol, pesticides)
- Pin point source of stressors in your life and find specific ways to reduce or become more resilient with proper brain nutrition and lifestyle. High cortisol also causes a deficiency of DHEA & pregnenolone which are the building blocks of our hormones.
3. Feed your Brain: Your neurons require glucose, oxygen & stimulation for healthy functioning. Inflammation, hormone imbalance or poor blood sugar control all contribute to an imbalance of neurotransmitter communication. An anti-inflammatory diet, targeted nutrition and botanicals can impact brain chemistry in a way that most medications cannot.
- Vitamins & minerals for neurotransmitter production: B vitamins (B6, B12, B3 (riboflavin), Folate), zinc, magnesium, manganese
- Good fats: Essential fatty acids (EFAs) are essential for your brain! EPA/DHA in fish oil, avocado, nuts, seeds, olive oil. EPA is great for inflammation but
- DHA specifically targets the brain and memory. C
- Supplements: Serotonin boosters- 5 HTP, St John’s Wort, SAMe. GABA boosters- valarian root, L-theanine, taurine. Dopamine boosters- Macuna pruriens, PEA (chocolate) anti-oxidants like blueberry extract, alpha-lipoid acid, liposomal glutathione or N-acetylcysteine
- Iron: low iron or anemia inhibits the production of neurotransmitters and can be caused by low dietary intake, low iron absorption with hypothyroidism or low Hydrochloric acid, heavy menstrual bleeding or uterine fibroids.
4. Exercise your Brain: Your brain requires good oxygenated blood flow to be healthy. Red flags that you may have poor blood flow to your brain include cold hands & feet, hypoglycemia or diabetes, low blood pressure, low iron or anemia, or sedentary lifestyle.
- Abdominal breathing, allowing abdomen to rise with each inhale, allows for the diaphragm to be fully engaged and fuller breaths for better brain oxygenation. When we are stressed, we tend to breathe in short, shallow breaths from our chest region only. By incorporating abdominal breathing, you will feel calmer and your brain will thank you!
- Aerobic exercise physically brings oxygenated blood to your brain! Just find something your enjoy and do it at least 4-5 times a week – dancing, walking, jogging or high intensity interval training (HIIT). A 2006 study from the University of Illinois shows that brains of older adults in those that participated in aerobic activity had significantly less atrophy compared to older adults that engaged in only stretching exercises.
5. The Gut-Brain Axis: The GI-system and the brain are connected via the vagus nerve that starts at the brain-stem and goes to all the organs, as well as the gut. We call this the enteric nervous system – our second brain. This is important for brain health for many reasons but specifically for early detection of Parkinson’s Disease or mild cognitive impairment (brain deterioration).
When the vagus nerve isn’t communicating, there is a higher risk of leaky gut, increase permeability of the intestinal lining, which can lead to leaky brain. Leaky brain is a permeability of the blood-brain barrier and causes significant brain inflammation. Improving our gut health is important for this reason alone! Constipation or bloating that is progressively getting worse is a sign that the vagus nerve doesn’t work correctly causing slowed motility of the gut and decreased secretions of digestive enzymes.
Early symptoms include:
- Constipation (poor peristalsis or motility)
- Difficulty digesting protein and fats (from low hydrochloric acid)
- Gastro-esophageal reflux or GERD (from low hydrochloric acid)
- Difficulty digesting fats (from low pancreatic enzymes)
- Gallbladder disorder (from low pancreatic enzymes)
- Leaky gut or increased permeability of the intestinal wall (poor vagal activation)
So you are probably wondering how can we improve function of our vagus nerve? Prolonged gargling of water or singing loudly activate the vagus nerve – like push ups for our gut-brain connection!
Remember, we have choices everyday that guide & determine our health and vitality as we age. In the words of Benjamin Franklin, ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure’!