Menopause is a period of great change, but it can also be a time of great confusion.
One minute, you’re calm and collected and the next, you’ve adopted a Cersei Lannister persona. Your body feels like it’s on fire and at night, you’re sweating profusely like a pig. No wonder you’re having sleep problems. Not to mention your dry vagina’s got you worrying what your sex life will be like from here on out. And goodness, the brain fog is so… oh great, you lost your train of thought again.
Say hello to menopause.
But don’t freak out just yet. Contrary to society’s “brules,” your life is far from over. While there’s no way to stop aging, you can make that transition an easier and healthier one.
And on the science front, neuroscientist Dr. Lisa Mosconi and her team have intensively studied women’s brains and found that the exasperating symptoms you experience during menopause don’t actually start in your ovaries.
Yes, you read that right. According to Dr. Lisa, menopausal symptoms are actually neurological symptoms — they start in your brain. And the key to tending to your womanly health is by supporting your brain health.
How Can You Support Your Brain Health During Menopause?
Now that you know about the connection between your brain and your reproductive system, you can take steps to keep that organ in your noggin’ up to par. Check out these five science-backed tips, supported by Dr. Lisa herself:
#1: Eating for your brain
The Mediterranean diet has quite a number of benefits, considering it consists of a healthy balance of vegetables, fruits, legumes, grains, nuts, fish, and moderate amounts of poultry and red meats.
And best of all, research shows that it strongly supports women’s health.
Even researchers at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital found this type of diet is connected to longevity in women. It’s “associated with longer telomeres (that protect the chromosome from damage)” and “women who had followed the Mediterranean diet were biologically younger than those who hadn’t.”
If you don’t live in the Mediterranean region or this diet isn’t up your alley, you should take into consideration the foods that are organic to your geographic location and what’s seasonal in your region.
The Mediterranean diet is also high in phytoestrogen, which are plant-based compounds that mimic estrogen in the body. Although they’re not quite as efficient as the hormone made by your body, phytoestrogen comes in handy if you’re estrogen deficient.
There are two main types of phytoestrogen:
- Isoflavones improve cognitive function. They can be found mostly in soy, like miso and tempeh.
- Lignans reduce menopausal symptoms as well as risks for cancer and cardiovascular disease. They’re found in seeds, whole grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables.
Foods with flavonoids
Foods that are high in flavonoids are “key to slowing down brain aging,” according to Dr. Lisa. Plus, they’ve got quite the list of benefits. They’re:
- Helps protect from liver damage
- Helps blood vessels vasodilate
- Considered as potential anticancer agents
These foods include strawberries, oranges, peppers, and apples. And by adding at least half a serving per day, you can lower your risk of cognitive decline by at least 20%.
An apple a day really does keep the doctor away after all.
Prebiotics and probiotics
There’s been a lot of talks lately about the connection between your brain and your gut. So it’s no surprise that prebiotics and probiotics can help with your brain health too.
Although more research needs to be done, it’s now known the gut microbiome sends signals “from the gut to affect brain function, most notably the hypothalamus and amygdala that are implicated in stress.”
And from what Dr. Lisa has mentioned, those are two parts of the brain that are affected by menopause.
#2: Keep hydrated
The human body is made up of about 70% water. Interestingly, we can go roughly about three days without water. And for women, we need at least 11.5 cups of water a day (so says the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine).
So as they say, water is life.
But dehydration can f*ck it up for you, especially for your brain. What happens when you don’t get enough fluids? Your mood and your mental function are in for a serious downward spiral.
Also, fun fact: H2O isn’t your only source of liquid. You can include fruits, vegetables, juices, coffees, and so on to meet your fluid needs.
#3: Find ways to de-stress
Stress suppresses estrogen. And we don’t want that.
Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine found stress activates the limbic system (the part of the brain responsible for emotion) in women. And their activation lasted longer and was stronger than in men.
“Women have twice the rate of depression and anxiety disorders compared to men,” explains Dr. J.J. Wang, assistant professor of Radiology and Neurology and lead author of the study. “Knowing that women respond to stress by increasing activity in brain regions involved with emotion, and that these changes last longer than in men, may help us begin to explain the gender differences in the incidence of mood disorders.”
So give your brain a break and find ways to relax your mind.
#4: Intermittent fasting
Intermittent fasting is starting to pick up, especially with science backing up its benefits. Like, on the brain side of things, it’s shown to:
- Impact the neural signals
- Promote neuroplasticity, which is your brain’s ability to reorganize, strengthen and form new neural pathways
- Resist injury and disease to the brain
- Improves your mood
- Clear brain fog and sharpen your mind
In short, intermittent fasting helps optimize your brain’s function. Keep in mind though that intermittent fasting for women is different than for men.
#5: Stop smoking
Audrey Hepburn made it look so cool in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, but smoking, as we all know, is bad. Especially when it comes to menopause.
Dr. Lisa explains smoking is the number one cause of early menopause in women. Backing her claim up is a study of the effects of smoking on menopausal age that reports “smokers reached menopause earlier than non-smokers, and their risk for experiencing early menopause was higher.”
So if you’re a smoker, casual or not, you may want to consider chucking the sticks to help with your brain health.
Support Your Brain Health & Celebrate Your Menopause
“As soon as you hit mid-life, as soon as you’re past like 30, you realize that your brain is really your major asset — one of your major assets, but definitely an important part of you,” says Dr. Lisa.
So it’s time to take care of it. Although we cannot stop the aging process (unfortunately), we can surely do our best to optimize our health so our body can go through its natural transitions with grace and wellbeing.
And by signing up to Mindvalley, you’re bound to find something that’ll help you with supporting your brain health. Whether it’s learning about foods with the first free lessons of the WildFit Quest, de-stressing through meditations with the The M Word Quest, intermittent fasting with the Beyond Fasting Quest, or simply finding a support tribe to celebrate your womanhood.
Whatever it is you’re looking for, we’ll see you at Mindvalley.