Many are familiar with the role that hormones play in one’s fertility and with our reproductive system. Recently, I highlighted another fact about these chemical messengers that many may not be so aware of. This is how they affect our whole body, including our brain. In fact, hormones can have a large impact on our emotions and cognitive health.
Hormones can cause changes in our mood and brain because these molecules interact with our brain signals (neurotransmitters) and affect our mental processing patterns. Furthermore, there are also receptors for both estrogen and progesterone in our brain as well as throughout our body. This means the life transitions that are marked by variations in women’s reproductive hormones can cause physical, emotional, and social-behavioral changes. The biological effects include alterations to the brain.
In my previous post, I discussed that when hormones are imbalanced one’s mood can really get off kilter, even to the extent of triggering extreme irritability leading to rage. These outbursts can occur whenever a woman’s hormones fluctuate; however, they are often most evident with perimenopause. This is the time frame that leads up to the cessation of all menstrual periods (menopause).
In this blog, I will specifically highlight how the shift into menopause alters the brain itself. I will also review how to support women during this transition with a naturopathic, functional, and root cause medicine approach.
Even if you are not a biological woman, reading about/and or watching the video will help you understand how hormones can affect the brain.
Note: This information is based on, and extracted from, my latest article published on Rupa Health.
3 Ways Menopause Affects the Brain
1. Hormonal Influences on Neurotransmitter Production
As noted above, sex hormones influence various brain neurotransmitters. These include serotonin, GABA, glutamate, and dopamine.
Estrogen has the most robust evidence for affecting emotions and neurotransmitter production through its impact on serotonin, endorphins (the “feel-good” chemicals), and stress neurotransmitters.
Progesterone also plays a role in mood and brain health. It also has been shown to influence serotonin and may be neuroprotective to the brain.
A downstream progesterone metabolite, allopregnanolone, has been said to modulate GABAa (Gamma-aminobutyric acid) receptors. This can result in anti-anxiety and antidepressant effects.
2. A Temporary Decrease in Memory and Cognition
It is not uncommon for women to complain of memory and cognitive issues during menopause. This is due to the fact that estrogen has special receptors in our brain. These are found within the limbic region (an area that controls mood, emotion, and memory).
The good news is this is often not permanent, and balancing estrogen levels has been shown to modulate cognitive function.
3. Changes in Brain Structure
Various alterations in brain structure can occur with the menopause transition. Specifically, locations in the brain which influence negative emotional processing can be affected. Brain imaging has also indicated several other brain changes.
As stated in my article on Rupa Health:
One recent study used several types of brain imaging, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), magnetic resonance spectroscopy, and positron emission tomography (PET), to scan the brains of 161 women between the ages of 40 and 65. Some of the women were menopausal (one year without menstruation), some were transitioning to menopause (“perimenopause”), and a third group was post-menopausal.
The results concluded:
- The gray matter volume was lower in the inferior temporal gyrus, which is associated with high-level visual perception.
- Glucose use was lower in the temporal lobes (the brain area involved in memory and perception).
- White matter volume declined in multiple regions throughout the brain.
- Deposits of amyloid beta (Alzheimer’s-associated protein) were higher in women who carried the E4 variant of the APOE gene, highlighting a connection between menopause and a higher Alzheimer’s risk for women.
Interestingly, the brain compensated for these changes by increasing cerebral blood flow and energy production in these areas. The researchers’ analyses also suggested that some declines occurred only temporarily during the menopausal transition and were reversed at menopause or years afterward.
Functional Medicine Labs to Test for Menopausal Women
My article details specific labs to evaluate in menopausal women with cognitive symptoms, as well as rationales. These include:
- a hormonal panel (blood, salvia, and urine)
- a neurotransmitter test
- a comprehensive stool test (a healthy microbiome can foster a balanced mood via the gut-brain-estrogen connection.)
What Women Can Do to Maintain Brain Health During Menopause
Focusing on natural approaches to balance hormones and support cognitive function is essential in maintaining brain health during menopause.
In my article on Rupa Health, I discuss various means to do this. These include:
Lifestyle changes such as movement, nutrition, brain stimulating activities, better sleep, and stress reduction
Aromatherapy including the use of lavender, clary sage, geranium and rose, neroli (bitter orange), and rosemary essential oils
Herbs: Ashwagandha, gingko biloba, lion’s mane, and turmeric can help to support brain health and cognition. St. John’s Wort, pueraria mirifica, and phytoestrogens can assist with hormonal and mood balance.
Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT): HRT must include personalization. It is best to make sure the above factors are dialed in first before introducing more hormones into the body.
Access more of the details on the above topics here.
Summary on Hormones and Brain Health
Menopause can impact the brain through the influence of hormones on neurotransmitters, memory and cognition, and brain structure. Thankfully, the distressful shifts are usually only temporary.
One can decrease the negative effects on the brain and mental health during this transition with lifestyle factors, essential oils, and herbal and supplemental support options. If needed, HRT can also be considered.
Using naturopathic, functional, and root cause medicine, women can shift into the next phase of their lives with better preservation of cognitive function and a more balanced mood and mindset.
Get more details on how menopause affects the brain here.
Be sure to share your experience on how hormones alter brain and mood below.
Naturopathic Medicine and Holistic Resources for Hormonal and Mood Support
- Free resources and more education on essential oils and mind-body wellness are available to you here.
- If you are struggling with mental health issues, please seek professional help: National Mental Health Hotline
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Access all references in the original article here.
Disclaimer: This material is for information purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, or prescribe for any illness. You should check with your doctor regarding implementing any new strategies into your wellness regime. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. (Affiliation link.)
This information is applicable ONLY for therapeutic quality essential oils. This information DOES NOT apply to essential oils that have not been tested for purity and standardized constituents. There is no quality control in the United States, and oils labeled as “100% pure” need only to contain 5% of the actual oil. The rest of the bottle can be filled with fillers and sometimes toxic ingredients that can irritate the skin. The studies are not based solely on a specific brand of an essential oil, unless stated. Please read the full study for more information.
Thanks Pixabay and Canva.