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Brain Health in Menopause (Part 1)

If you are over 40, maybe you can relate to walking into a room and wondering why you were there? Or running around looking for your keys and finding out they were in your hand the entire time?  Or maybe you just can’t remember phone numbers or names as well as you used to?  These are the moments that you wonder if it’s just normal aging or if you are literally losing your mind.  As we enter menopause, it’s time to consider the steps we need to take to preserve our brain health and prevent cognitive decline.  

As we get older, some of us may be caring for parents who suffer from varying degrees of dementia or possibly Alzheimer’s disease.  Losing our mental ability and function is the #1  fear we have in aging but does it have to be?  Statistics show that 1 in 8 senior citizens develop Alzheimer’s Disease (AD). Is there something we are doing, or not doing, to preserve our brain health for ourselves and our families? 

In the last 5 years alone, the research around preserving our brain health has exploded in the functional medicine community. It is encouraging to  know that we can be in control of our brain health by the way we live our lives: diet, nutrition and exercise.  I encourage you to read Dr. Dale Bredeson’s book, The End of Alzheimer’s for the prevention of this type of brain decline.

Neurotransmitters involved in overall brain health:

  • Serotonin– for happiness and joy
  • Dopamine – for experiencing pleasure, motivation
  • Acetylcholine– for learning and memory
  • GABA – for relaxation and calm, sleep

Menopause

As we enter peri-menopause, approximately 8-10 years prior to menopause – or when menstrual cycles stop- our brains seem to change profoundly as we experience viscous mood swings that make us question our sanity! It is often treated as normal and ‘just a part of menopause’ but it’s not normal and we can do something about it. These changes in moods, depression & anxiety is caused from hormone-driven neurotransmitter imbalances, or our brain chemistry.

Our neurotransmitters rely on hormonal balance for receptor site sensitivity and  effective communication.

Andropause 

As Men enter this phase of life called andropause, or male menopause, and hormone imbalance impacts neurotransmitters that creates the tired, ‘grumpy old man’ syndrome we associate as normal in middle age. We know that low testosterone causes depression in men but more importantly, it’s a sign of brain degeneration of the frontal lobe. Statin-drugs, are known to lower testosterone in men and also tend to drive the cholesterol below 150 which is also detrimental for brain health
.

There is good news. We can help ourselves, and the men & women in our lives, to be pro-active in preserving our hormone balance & brain health.

Women can target hormone imbalance with adrenal or thyroid support, stabilizing blood sugar or bio-identical hormone therapy, if needed, for optimal brain functioning. 

      • Women with low estrogen levels can cause many of the symptoms we experience heading into menopause such as depression, anxiety and sleep disorders.  Knowing if your estrogen is high or low is essential for healthy serotonin levels.
      • Women who struggle with high testosterone levels  tend to have insulin resistance and can re-balance with a low-carb, slow-carb lifestyle.  High testosterone also causes lower estrogen & progesterone levels that neurotransmitters need to function at their best.
      • In men, chronically high blood sugar or diabetes contributes to low testosterone by the conversion of testosterone to estrogen through an enzyme called aromatase.  As estrogen rises, insulin becomes resistant and blood sugar stays elevated – a viscous cycle.
      • Men can raise testosterone and lower estrogen by eliminating sugar & refined carbohydrates, excessive alcohol, and processed foods.
      • Men are encouraged to follow an anti-inflammatory diet and manage stress for hormone balance.
      • Warning for men: supplementing with Testosterone  without dietary & lifestyle changes will end in frustration as the testosterone continues to be aromatized, increasing estrogen instead of testosterone.
      • Men need to make these necessary dietary and lifestyle changes to improve testosterone levels that improve moods, motivation and brain health.  It’s always important to ask why the Testosterone level is low and start from there.

Thyroid-Brain Connection

We also have to be proactive if we have thyroid conditions, even if you are taking thyroid medication, as the thyroid hormone significantly impacts our brain health. Brain-related symptoms are connected to poor thyroid function caused by a significant imbalance of our neurotransmitters in both men and women.

Shockingly, of all the women who complain of brain fog, forgetfulness, depression, anxiety or fatigue and have hypothyroid condition, 60% will go undiagnosed. The American Thyroid Association states that 1 in 8 women will suffer from a thyroid condition. Furthermore, undiagnosed hypothyroidism causes serious conditions such as cardiovascular diseases, osteoporosis and infertility. The first step in prevention is to get screened with the correct labs – the full thyroid panel with antibodies, not only the TSH.  Please refer to my blog post on Thyroid Health to learn more.

How to Support Your Neurotransmitters:

      1. Serotonin:  requires adequate estrogen to sensitize receptors, adaquate protein, iron,  5-HTP is a precursor to serotonin and can improve low mood and poor sleep, P5P (B6), methylcobalamine (B12), magnesium and folate (5-mthf) are essential for the production of serotonin.
      1. GABA: is supported by progesterone, valerian root, phenibut, L-theanine, tourine, and precursors P5P (B6), zinc, manganese, and magnesium.  Many people who suffer from GABA-related issues could also be gluten-intolerant which may mount an auto-immune response to the enzyme responsible for making GABA in the brain. *GABA supplementation does not cross blood-brain barrier unless leaky brain is present.
      1. Dopamine: supported by testosterone in men & progesterone in men and women, high protein (beef, chicken fish, eggs, chocolate) provides phenylalanine or N-acetyl l-tyrosine, adequate iron, P5P (B6), folate (5-mthf) or green leafy vegetables.
      1. Acetylcholine (poor memory, difficulty with numbers, decreased creativity): supported by estrogen in women and testosterone in men, adequate choline in the diet including eggs, tofu, nuts and cream/milk. Fat-free diets and gallbladder disorders may cause deficiency of this neurotransmitter. Estrogen & testosterone improve receptor sensitivity with clear, focused thinking.
      1. DHA from Fish oil and other essential fatty acids like fish, nuts, seeds, olive oil and avocados are essential for brain health- but DHA, a component of fish oil, is specific for targeting the brain for improved memory.
      2. Thyroid Hormone impacts all neurotransmitter receptors in men and women. It is important to check for autoimmune antibodies if you are diagnosed with hypothyroid/hyperthyroid so you are able to support calming the immune response with Vit D, fish oil EPA/DHA and supporting proper thyroid function with nutrients like zine & selenium.

We can make an informed effort to control our health and, ultimately, our destiny, but many people don’t realize what they are experiencing as nagging symptoms may be brain inflammation and decline.

  • Depression or anxiety
  • Poor focus or memory
  • Worsening constipation or digestive disorders 

The key is prevention, click here to for simple steps take: Brain Health (Part 2) – A guide for prevention of decline

If you are a women and want to continue the conversation, I invite you to join our new private Facebook group, MoreThanMenopause for weekly FB live with Q & A.  What are you waiting for? We are excited to meet you!

 

Resources:

https://kupdf.com/download/why-isn39t-my-brain-working_597ed1fadc0d60695f2bb17f_pdf

https://www.thyroid.org/media-main/about-hypothyroidism/

http://www.biologicalpsychiatryjournal.com/article/S0006-3223(11)01193-0/fulltext

https://academic.oup.com/biomedgerontology/article/61/11/1166/630432

https://www.amazon.com/End-Alzheimers-Program-Prevent-Cognitive/dp/0735216207

Brain Health in Menopause (Part 2)

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.  For Brain Health in Menopause (Part 1), click here.

 

  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.
      1. Focus on more vegetables, lean protein and ‘slow carbs’ like sweet potato and quinoa
      2. No snacking: allow your body to use your glucose reserves between healthy meals to avoid the blood-sugar roller-coaster 
      3. 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
      4. 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/

  1. 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! 
      1. Reduce stress with mindfulness practices: HeartMath (heart math.org), meditation, yoga, acupuncture, qi gong and tai chi.
      2. 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)
      3. 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.  Please read my blog post about Adrenal Health.
  1. 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.
      1. Vitamins & minerals for neurotransmitter production:  B vitamins (B6, B12, B3 (riboflavin), Folate), zinc, magnesium, manganese
      2. 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
      3. 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
      4. 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.

      1. 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!
      2. 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:

      1. Constipation (poor peristalsis or motility)
      2. Difficulty digesting protein and fats (from low hydrochloric acid)
      3. Gastro-esophageal reflux or GERD (from low hydrochloric acid)
      4. Difficulty digesting fats (from low pancreatic enzymes)
      5. Gallbladder disorder (from low pancreatic enzymes)
      6. 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’!

If you want to know more, please schedule a phone consultation to talk about the many ways to promote our brain health!  https://Rgreenberg.intakeq.com/booking

As a gift to yourself, please download this copy of Dr Kharrazian’s book, Why isn’t my brain working? An extremely informative book for anyone, of any age, who wants to prevent brain decline or improve their health.  https://kupdf.com/download/why-isn39t-my-brain-working_597ed1fadc0d60695f2bb17f_pdf

 

Resources:

https://www.thyroid.org/media-main/about-hypothyroidism/

http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa1215740

http://www.biologicalpsychiatryjournal.com/article/S0006-3223(11)01193-0/fulltext

https://academic.oup.com/biomedgerontology/article/61/11/1166/630432